What can DNA tell us?

Last updated: 4 October 2021

DNA is a vast repository of information with huge potential to change our lives. From ancestry and disease risk to optimising our lifestyle and learning about our microbiome – discover how we can directly benefit from the knowledge in our DNA.

Want to know your ancestry?
Learn to manage stress?
Find the criminal?
Protect your health?
Identify your gut microbiota?
Discover the best sports or diet for you?

It may look like a series of totally unrelated questions, but they have one thing in common – they can all be accomplished by analysing DNA. We’re giving you a closer look at everything a DNA can tell us!

What can DNA do for us

Let’s start by what you see every day on television.

When sci-fi becomes reality

TV shows such as CSI rely on DNA testing for forensic purposes, mostly to identify victims and criminals. And it's no science fiction! In a cold, dry and dark place, DNA can remain intact for thousands of years, helping us solve both modern and ancient crimes and mysteries.

Investigators use a process called DNA profiling to determine an individual's unique DNA characteristics. They use biological samples, mostly blood, semen, saliva or hair, from which they extract DNA.

So how can we tell from DNA if the suspect and the criminal are one and the same? Special enzymes called restriction endonucleases cut up the DNA, but only when they come across a specific sequence.

And because DNA varies from person to person, so does the length of the cut pieces. By combining several of these variable locations in the genome, scientists can say with very high confidence that the DNA profiles in question are a match.

Move over USB, here comes DNA

Information is power, and as humanity’s knowledge grows at an exponential rate, so do our requirements for storing information. And now scientists turned to a source that at a first glance seems quite unusual – our genome.

As incredible as it might sound, scientists are trying to use synthetic DNA as the medium for storing information. Even Richard Dawkins, the author of the acclaimed novel The Selfish Gene, was fascinated by the fact that “genetics is digital.” Gene, as a long sequence of coded letters, is just like computer information.

A bioengineer and a geneticist from Harvard’s Wyss Institute have successfully stored staggering 700 terabytes of data in a single gram of DNA. They said that they treated DNA just like another digital storage device with each of the nucleotide bases representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0). Reading this data stored in DNA is simple – first, we sequence it just like a genome and then convert the bases back into binary values.

And since we’re already well versed in sequencing (in simple terms, reading) DNA, we can be looking at DNA as the next incarnation of the USB key. The molecule is also very stable and storing data in it doesn’t require much energy. Currently, the only drawback is the price tag as synthesising DNA is very expensive.

Now let’s see how DNA tests can benefit you directly.

Live long and prosper

When gene testing advanced to the point to become available to the broader public, it became clear that it can be used to directly improve our lives. Since our DNA contains the instructions for every part of our body, it can help us maintain optimal health and wellbeing.

Genetic testing can tell you if you are at risk of being obese, having high cholesterol, lacking specific nutrients. By analysing your affinity for coffee and sleeping, risk of soft tissue injury, response to stress and many other traits, it can also help you adapt your physical activities and lifestyle.

And because we use whole genome sequencing (WGS) method to “read” your genome, we only need one saliva sample and you can order new tests, receive new analyses and updates on the existing ones without additional testing. Read more about WGS here, and more about MyLifestyle DNA test here.


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Discover your genetic history

Genetic testing can also help you peek into your past. Your genes’ past, to be exact! Analysing your DNA enables you to trace its origin and discover where your ancestors came from.

An ethnicity estimate shows how similar your DNA is to different populations from around the world. The higher the degree of similarity, the higher the likelihood of your common origin.

Glimpse potential future and change it

Many people wish that they’ve known before that they have a higher risk of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic conditions or even blood clots. 

All those worries can be addressed with – you guessed it – DNA tests.

When it comes to cancer, most people aren’t aware of their genetic predisposition before the disease develops. If the genes that influence cancer development are not functioning properly, the chances of developing cancer increase significantly. Being aware of the genetic mutation gives people the necessary knowledge to take preventive measures and determine a health plan. That is why we’ve developed our Cancer Screen, a simple and reliable genetic test for hereditary cancer risk assessment. Learn more here.

Blood clots in veins (VTE or venous thromboembolism) are a serious threat to health. Your risk of developing them depends on many factors – from oral contraceptives and obesity to a genetic component. If you want to assess your genetic risk, learn more about our VeniSafe. It helps you discover if you have a higher risk of developing VTE and what you can do to protect your health. Learn more here.

Have a calm pregnancy

Every expectant mommy wants to make sure that her baby is healthy and developing normally. It is the most valuable information that future parents can learn. Sometimes traditional methods such as a nuchal scan are not definitive enough, or parents want to be absolutely sure.

NIPT (non-invasive prenatal test) DNA test can help them see if their baby is developing normally without having to resort to potentially dangerous procedures. NIPT by GenePlanet is the most comprehensive test on the market, it can be used from as early as week 10 of pregnancy and is 99% accurate.

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Meet your tenants

Did you know that you share your body with trillions of tiny organisms? They live on your skin, in your mucous tissues, in your gut, and mouth. Most of them are bacteria, but there are also viruses and fungi.

The majority of those buggers are friendly, providing you with benefits in exchange for having a home. Infections, to use of antibiotics and even your diet can disturb the balance in your body and impact the normal functioning of your symbiotic microbes.

Science has just begun diving into the importance of microbiota, but one thing has been clear from the beginning – the microbes you carry have a profound influence on key aspects of your life – nutrition, immunity, behaviour, and diseases.

Research as linked changes in microbiota to many disease states. They include asthma, autism, cancer, celiac disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and obesity. Recent scientific advances are helping us better understand our resident microbes and identify the differences between healthy and disease states.

We are currently developing our very own Oral Microbiome test. Based on the composition of microbial representatives in your saliva sample, we’ll be able to assess your oral health and provide nutrition and lifestyle recommendations to improve it. Stay tuned for more news, and subscribe to our newsletter to get alerted the moment the test becomes available!

Humanity has just started cracking the life code that is DNA, and judging by how significant improvements the discoveries have already brought, information coded in our DNA will continue to impact our lives in the future.

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    Sources:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3340594/
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/307998#why-is-the-human-microbiota-important
    https://wyss.harvard.edu/technology/dna-data-storage/
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dna-data-storage-is-closer-than-you-think/
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324945710_DNA_as_a_digital_information_storage_device_hope_or_hype

 

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