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Chances DNA can be used to find your family? Sixty percent and rising (arstechnica.com)
86 points by okket 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments





My wife and I used IVF to get pregnant. The issue was on her side, so we used donor eggs. It was completely anonymous, of course, but lately I've been wondering what's going to happen if (let's be honest, when) my children decide to use a service like 23AndMe.

Will they want to get in touch with the donor or her family? What affect will that have on my wife, who probably would feel diminished as the mother if that happened? I don't know, and honestly it's not something we considered five years ago when we had our kids. Those services existed at the time, but they hadn't taken off like they have in the last few years.

I think it's something anyone considering sperm/egg donation (either as a recipient or a donor) has to consider. If one side wants to connect, it's probably going to happen.


C'est la vie, no?

I realize it seems strange, but is it not just because it's new. Is it really all that different from some unknown cousin or somesuch popping up in your life? The truth, is that IVF exists. I don't think we should feel ashamed or disturbed that it's true. It's wonderful that you guys get to be parents, and that we're no longer totally limited by biology.

There's other stuff to worry about anyway, when it comes to having kids. What if they become teenagers?


> There's other stuff to worry about anyway, when it comes to having kids. What if they become teenagers?

LOL. You made my day.


This is literally how I found out that I had a half-brother.

23andMe. I looked up family members, for fun. WHAM, half brother. I called my dad who, after some prodding, confirmed it was his child. I reached out. The man knew he was adopted.

Now we have a new brother at family events. Likely his Mom and him are going to spend Christmas with us.


Great ending. But not all are like this: think divorce or even murder after finding out that husband has kids all over the place :). And that's just one angle

How does his mum feel about that?

I regret that humans can suffer feelings of inadequacy like feeling diminished as a mother, and I certainly sympathize with your wife because she will almost certainly have to fight thoughts like that, but I don't believe for a moment that those feelings have any validity. I am sure she will be a great mother and should have no regrets!

That said, I believe everyone ought to have a right to know their genetic lineage. It doesn't make anyone any less of a person or diminish their contributions - but for the sole reason of medical insight it ought to be knowable.


I agree for possible selfish reasons. My dad was adopted and he died from a heart attack. He made all of the decisions you’d need to make to ensure you had a heart attack like he was going down a checklist but it would be good to find out if there’s a family history of heart disease I think it would be good to know.

I was adopted at birth, which I guess in some ways could be considered similar (I was literally delivered from my biological mom and handed to my adopting parents). My parents have always been upfront, honest, and supportive if I wanted to find out who my biological parent(s) are. However, I have never asked or followed through on finding out. There have been a couple times throughout my life where I have been curious, but always have defaulted back to not wanting to find out. I think the upfront honesty and support were a driving factor in this decision.

Since I was adopted at birth by my parents, I have never known anyone else in terms of family. I grew up in a loving household with supportive parents in an upper-middle class area. I think these all also factored into me not having a desire to find out about my biological parents.

I have gone as far as looking once a while back at one of the websites where biological parents try to track down their children that were adopted. I don't know if I would have reached out, but I was curious if someone was looking for me. While I would not actively seek them out, I would not decline if they reached out to me.

On the downside though, it would be nice to have an idea when it comes to health issues. I have never known if there is a "history" of anything in my family because I don't know who my biological family is. Also, as medicine and technology advances, having some knowledge of this history may be crucial in determining future healthcare methods/procedures.

I have thought about getting 23AndMe just so I have some clue have my genetics and what I may be susceptible/not susceptible too, but just haven't pulled the trigger on moving forward. I think if I had a current health issue I may be more eager to move forward with that.


Thanks for that thoughtful reply. We've been upfront with our kids too. They understand as well as a 4 and 3 year old can that most Mommies have eggs inside them that grow into babies, but their Mommy got an egg from another lady. :)

I was probably around the same age when my parents told me I was adopted. Personally, I am glad they did it at such an early age and were as upfront as they were. I think I would have been more curious if I had found out later in life and it came as a complete surprise/shock.

> It was completely anonymous, of course, but lately I've been wondering what's going to happen if (let's be honest, when) my children decide to use a service like 23AndMe.

There are youtube videos of people using DNA sites to find their real parents ( some accidentally and some intentionally ). It's pretty interesting if you have the time.

> Will they want to get in touch with the donor or her family?

Human beings are curious creatures. They will initially feel conflicted but the desire to know will prove irresistible. Perhaps to find half-siblings, to help build a family tree for their own kids one day and of course for family/genetic disease information.

There was a woman whose mother refused to tell her who her father was ( either because she didn't know herself or she hated the guy ). So she did a DNA test and matched a distant cousin and they talked and using the woman's age/birth location/etc, the distant cousin was able to tell her who her father was.

> If one side wants to connect, it's probably going to happen.

At this point, it's guaranteed. All it takes is just one person in your family ( parents, siblings, cousins ) to do a DNA test to narrow it down from billions to dozens. It's almost a statistical certainty that someone with direct genetic ties to you has sent their data in.

If your mother told you today that you were adopted, what's the first thing you'd want to do after recovering from the shock?


For various reasons I don’t know my full genetic background, yet I have always known my family: it’s the people who raised me. I would never consider a genetically related stranger to be family, nor would I be interested in getting to know them.

Always be your children’s true family and help them build a conception of themselves and where they come from that far transcends genetics. Their creation shows that they were truly wanted and was just the first expression you and your wife’s pure love for them


I'm wondering if this is so much different from an adopted person deciding to use a service like 23AndMe.

It seems like there should be biological parent-offspring "escrow" such that there's no hard feelings or unwelcome awkwardness.

> This is a rare case where a potential forensic tool is probably biased toward identifying wealthy white individuals.

Disclaimer: I work for a genetics genealogy company. My comments are my own.

> If, for whatever reason, you'd like to maintain your privacy, the researchers have a couple of suggestions you could support. One is simply to have the government redefine private information to reflect this new reality, so that the studies it funds no longer link any personal information with DNA sequences.

Improving government research anonymization standards is a good thing. But it will not go nearly far enough to solve privacy complaints from relatives of people who've had their DNA commercially tested for genealogy.

> They also suggest that companies that offer direct-to-consumer genetics standardize on a signed, encrypted file format for information on variations. That would prevent people from taking DNA information from other sources, like DNA sequence repositories, and using it to track down your family members.

I strongly believe more and better privacy regulation is necessary. I'm really curious to learn more about what sort of encrypted file format this person wants to standardize on and exactly how it's supposed to prevent people from taking DNA information from other sources.


> I strongly believe more and better privacy regulation is necessary.

What do you think the consequences will be if that doesn't happen?


Consider that there are a significant number of people who don't know they have more relatives than the ones they know and love. If the information is public, it becomes an avenue for blackmailing.

Scams about relatives already happen without DNA [1].

Depending on what state in which you live your insurance coverage or cost might change too. [2]

There's also significant risk that your DNA will be sequenced in one jurisdiction but, because of The Cloud, it gets analyzed and stored in another jurisdiction. For example, the EU and US have very different privacy laws.

Some DNA analysis software employ stochastic algorithms. That means that the answer they provide can be different if run more than once, especially if run with different parameters (such as sample pool). [3] [4] Some customers know this and will ask for their data to be reanalyzed.

Some companies make the DNA available to be downloaded by the customer. That file can then be used for your own analysis or research. It could also be uploaded to other companies for different analyses or conclusions.

I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that your grandmother, who uploaded her DNA to a foreign company for a new or different analysis, has given a foreign adversary private information about you and your potential medical hazards or secret relationships.

[1] https://www.khou.com/gallery/news/investigations/consumer/vi...

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/04/4--risks-consumer-face-with-...

[3] http://mathgen.stats.ox.ac.uk/impute/impute_v2.html

[4] http://www.genetics.ucla.edu/software/admixture/


I wish they'd use it for something good like the estimated 300000 stolen children during Francoism.

Or the children currently being separated from their parents at the US border.


Tools like this are the only way most descendants of slavery can trace their heritage AND find relatives.

For a lot of people 'family history' stops at 3 generations ago. Not only are they denied heritage, they are denied a home, a land, and a people. A sense of connection to the past is denied them.

DNA services are the only way to make these connections. And they are not trust worthy.


Most gene testing services aren’t nearly as accurate for people of non-European descent. I saw this when getting some prenatal screening - there’s a whole suite of tests for various European sub populations, and almost nothing for people of African descent.

So what might the broad social effects be if every adopted child has increasingly better odds of tracing their parentage?

My mother got a call about three years ago from a man who told her he thinks his mother is my mother's sister. Turns out my grandmother had a child at 16 and put her up for adoption. Now I have an extra aunt and she's super cool.

Most of these sort of stories turn out ok. The ones I have yet to hear about is when a person discovers that their father is not their genetic father due to their mother's infidelity. This is likely to be true for millions of people in the US. Or maybe estimates I've seen for this happening are way high? If it is only one in a thousand, then that would mean 300,000 people in the US are in this situation. Most are likely to find out eventually as more and more people get their DNA sequenced.

When people find out that their dad isn't actually they're biological dad they're not going to tell anybody because it is likely to make everyone hate each other (especially if the non-biological dad doesn't know already) and because it reflects poorly on them in some contexts.

There's probably a lot of mothers out there who feel really worried when they read news stories like this and there's probably a lot of people who aren't much like their sibling(s) that wonder.


> they're not going to tell anybody

The angst they save their family still exists - they'll keep it to themselves. Even without sharing, that's bound to have some social implications.


lol i know someone who found out this via one of those gene services. gained an extra sister from his real father. Its a big issue because its generally viewed a evolutionary acceptable for a father to sire multiple offspring from different women but if a women cheats on man and the only son of that man is not his, its a big ego kill. For that reason the secret was kept till his father died.

It's more than a big ego kill. In the most extreme example, kingship is hereditary, and people would fight wars over who the legitimate heir was.

Plus, you're working your ass off to raise someone else's offspring. So it is different.

Darwin spinning in his grave: "Nah, we already have a child, let's not have any more."


What scares me worse than finding out about a mother's actual infidelity is the test, due to statistical variation, falsely reporting infidelity.

Could that happen? Or are the DNA tests correct 100% of the time?


Since most humans inherit exactly half of their DNA from each parent, it should be pretty obvious when 50% match the mother and the rest doesn't match either parent. So long as enough locations are checked, the probability of getting such a result by chance mutations could be made extremely low.

> Since most humans inherit exactly half of their DNA from each parent, it should be pretty obvious when 50% match the mother and the rest doesn't match either parent.

Assuming the other parent is human, or even from the same tree of life, that's not going to happen, because the actual parent will share some DNA with the purported parent; you'll never get 50% match the actual mother, 0% match neither the mother nor the putative father.


Ah, right, I was only thinking about locations which are already different between mother and father.

There are odd reported cases of people being chimeras and carrying two different genotypes in their bodies. But again, extremely unlikely - but I suspect we will find out more and more about the exceptions which break the expected rollup of model of locations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimera_%28genetics%29


This is called Npe (not parent expected) and iirc 10% of tests have that result.

Hiding that one or both parents are not the biological parents from the child is one thing. A child finding out about that, while serious, not that devastating and a pretty common event.

The father not knowing that the child is not his is a different ball of wax. The mother will always know the child is hers or not (baby switching in hospitals and other rare events excepted). What percentage of children have fathers that are not their biological fathers and the father doen't know it? I have no idea, but this fact being discovered via DNA is going to really hurt a lot of relationships from each discovery.


Optimistically, reduced value of biological roots and the knowledge of them. Essentially as this information is more available, it will be easier to obtain and likely be considered less important. Pessimistically, reduced incentive for adoption on both sides due to reduced pre-adoption anonymity.

Adoption is so rare that it won't have broad social effects. But on an individual or family level, it can have positive and negative consequences. It all depends on the people and situation.

I would assume that voluntary sperm donation would sharply fall.

Ostensibly yes...but with supply and demand being what it is, the economical value of viable sperm is going to drastically start increasing.

https://www.gq.com/story/sperm-count-zero


Also, more abortion.

I wonder if the family of Benjaman Kyle [0] will eventually be found as more and more people are added to the databases.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjaman_Kyle


They were found in 2015. It's in the article you linked to.

GATTACA here we come. People discovering and discriminating against genetic traits.



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