On April 25, 1953, Nature first published the research spearheaded by James Watson and Francis Crick on the molecular structure of DNA. 63 years later, DNA analysis and manipulation play major roles in nearly every aspect of our lives. From genetically-tailored weight loss to precision pest control to data-driven genealogy, our increasing knowledge of life’s building blocks is changing the world one breakthrough at a time.
In this month alone, we’ve covered three different stories about how we’re using DNA to solve major problems. For people with diabetes, researchers are working on growing new beta cells from the patient’s own genome. To help reduce mosquito-born illnesses, researchers are developing a method of manipulating the genes of this wee beastie to wipe out entire populations. We’re even finding rare genes that help people bypass otherwise deadly disorders.
But that’s just a small slice of the research being done on genomes both modern and ancient. We’ve recently learned which genes impact when humans tend to become sexually active, where the Yiddish language most likely originated, and how widespread the interbreeding of mammoths was. All of that knowledge was gained by studying these data-rich DNA molecules.
Of course, our increased understanding of genetics doesn’t take place solely in the lab. Citizen scientists play a significant role in the research process. National Geographic’s Genographic Project tests hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe to help better understand human history. And from a human health aspect, 23andMe contributes data to research projects on Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and more.
If you’d like to explore your own DNA, there are plenty of great deals you can take advantage of today. If genealogy interests you, AncestryDNA is selling for $79 per kit, and Family Tree DNA kits start at $79 too. If your interests lie in anthropology and human migration, the Genographic Project is being discounted by $50 per kit. And if you’re more focused on how genetics impact your health, you can grab a 23andMe kit for $199. 23andMe isn’t running a sale for DNA Day this year, but you can still save 10% on additional kits.
Humans aren’t the only creatures benefiting from direct-to-consumer DNA kits — pets are getting tested as well. Mars Veterinary offers a dog DNA kit called Wisdom Panel for $85, and that can shine some light on your dog’s breed and physical traits. Meanwhile, the folks at Embark are launching a service that will test for over a hundred genetic diseases your pooch might be predisposed to. It’s not on the market just yet, but you can reserve your kit now, and get notified right away when it becomes available for purchase.
If you’re more of a cat person, your options are more limited. Cat DNA tests do exist, but they’re not typically packaged and sold in a consumer-friendly manner like dog DNA kits. The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis offers a variety of genetic tests, but it’s quite pricey to take each and every one. A handful of other labs offer tests for cats as well, but unless you need a specific test for health or breeding reasons, you’re better off waiting for the market to mature.