Home DNA kits good for ancestry, police investigations, maybe no - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Home DNA kits good for ancestry, police investigations, maybe not medical risks

(Source: natalimis via123RF) (Source: natalimis via123RF)
Zola Zermeno sent samples to three popular testing companies, Ancestry DNA, 23 and Me, and My Heritage DNA. (Source: CBS 5 Investigates) Zola Zermeno sent samples to three popular testing companies, Ancestry DNA, 23 and Me, and My Heritage DNA. (Source: CBS 5 Investigates)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Experts recommend reviewing the privacy policy of the company you choose. Know what the company plans to do with your DNA sample when it’s finished testing it. (Source: CBS 5 Investigates) Experts recommend reviewing the privacy policy of the company you choose. Know what the company plans to do with your DNA sample when it’s finished testing it. (Source: CBS 5 Investigates)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The explosion in the popularity of at-home DNA testing kits has been a boon for ancestry investigations, as well as cold cases that have stumped police. But experts warn that these test kits may not be the best indicators of future medical problems.

“Getting involved and monitoring your health or knowing about your origin, I think, is a very good step,” said Frederic Zenhausern, Ph.D., who is the director of the Center for Applied NanoBioscience and Medicine at the University of Arizona.

Zenhausern says the home DNA kits, which generally cost around $100, can be very accurate in identifying family trees and ancestry, but he is wary about claims that such limited and inexpensive testing can accurately identify genetic health risks.

What I wish we had known, and what I hope everybody else learns, is that with the small price and small sample that they’re collecting and the extent of the DNA that they’re analyzing, their rate of false positives is not zero.

~ Julie Kennerly-Shah, Took a home DNA test

“The problem is now there are a lot of new businesses that are emerging to try to promote to you, ‘Well, we can do a second type of analysis with your data,’” said Zenhausern.

It is that type of secondary analysis that gave Julie Kennerly-Shah the scare of her life. She and her husband, Summit, had both taken a DNA test to get more information about their ancestry.

[REALTED: The government wants your DNA for science]

“Summit clearly came back as having a lot of Indian genetics and I came back as European,” Kennerly-Shah said.

But she took that second step and submitted her information to a website that claimed to be able to compare her results to published genetic research and flag any potential medical predispositions. The program alerted her that she was at a high risk of developing two types of cancer.

“Our first reaction was just to research as much as we could,” she said.

Both she and her husband are medical professionals, so they knew where to look and which questions to ask. Turns out, her prognosis was wrong.

“What I wish we had known, and what I hope everybody else learns, is that with the small price and small sample that they’re collecting and the extent of the DNA that they’re analyzing, their rate of false positives is not zero,” said Summit Shah.

A majority of the DNA test companies market their products to people like Zola Zermeno. She is in her 20s and curious about her ancestral heritage.

[DATA DOCTORS: Comparing genealogical DNA tests]

“I always tell people I’m half Mexican and half white, which is Irish, Dutch and gosh, I don’t know what else,” she said.

She sent samples in from three popular tests. They are Ancestry DNA, 23 and Me, and My Heritage DNA. Results from the three companies were slightly different, but they piqued her curiosity about potential long-lost relatives.

“I definitely want to find other relatives out there, but in doing that I’m kind of opting into it to really put myself and literally my DNA out there,” said Zermeno.

[MORE: CBS 5 Investigations]

Closing cold cases

What has made the most headlines recently is the use of these ancestry websites and companies by law enforcement officials to track down serial killers and solve other cold cases.

Last month, authorities in California used an ancestry website to compare DNA left by the so-called Golden State Killer to thousands of potential matches.

[RELATED: After searching for more than 40 years, authorities say an ex-cop is the Golden State Killer]

They were looking for a match to the killer or a match to a family member. Familial DNA has emerged as a huge tool for investigators.

Detectives upload genetic data to public genealogical websites. That helps them locate potential relatives of a killer or target of an investigation. They study family trees and zero in on potential suspects through a process of elimination.

[RELATED: What the Golden State Killer case means for your genetic privacy]

“With the advent of people voluntarily giving up their DNA, that is a whole new ballgame,” said Kimberly Kobojek, who is the director of the Forensic Sciences Center at ASU West.

She says using familial DNA is not as simple as matching suspect DNA from a crime scene to a specific person, but it does help eliminate suspects and find investigative leads.

“And it still may be a large list of investigative leads, but it’s better than what it was before,” said Kobojek.

Scottsdale Police and the Department of Public Safety Crime Lab used familial DNA to track down the man they believe killed Allison Feldman in Scottsdale in 2015. Detectives had run out of leads, but they had DNA samples they knew were from the killer.

Detectives compared the samples to the state prison DNA database and looked for a possible family member of the killer, rather than just the killer himself. They got a match.

[READ MORE: DUI evidence helped police identify suspect in Allison Feldman murder]

[TIMELINE: 1,148 days from murder of Allison Feldman to arrest of suspect]

That led them to Ian Mitcham, who is now charged with murder.

“I definitely think it adds another layer, and I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this,” said Kobojek.

With the advent of people voluntarily giving up their DNA, that is a whole new ballgame?

Kimberly Kobojek, Forensic Sciences Center at ASU West

But there are some privacy concerns that come along with the home DNA tests. Experts recommend reviewing the privacy policy of the company you choose. Know what the company plans to do with your DNA sample when it’s finished testing it. Finally, remember that regardless of any strict privacy policy, these DNA samples are obtainable by police if they have a court order.

[BEWARE: Your DNA could be used in criminal investigations without you even knowing it]


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Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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