Happy DNA Day!

A national survey by 23andMe found that most Americans said that knowing their genetic information could help them manage their health.
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In celebration of DNA Day on April 25th, 23andMe conducted its second nationwide survey to gauge Americans’ knowledge of genetics and genetic testing. While people’s understanding of genetics has grown a little since the survey last year, there is still much to do to improve genetic literacy in the United States.

“It’s encouraging to see Americans increased knowledge around what genetics can accomplish,” said Emily Drabant Conley, PhD, director of business development, 23andMe. “However, similar to last year, there is still room for additional education on what can be learned from a simple DNA sample.”

On the plus side, a whopping 91 percent of people surveyed said that knowing their genetic information could help them manage their health. About three-quarters of those surveyed know that genetics influences a person’s risk for disease. And an equal number correctly said that their genetics can determine what traits are passed to their children. More than half of those surveyed said their genetic information can also give them a more complete picture of their ancestry.

The survey was commissioned by 23andMe and conducted in March of 2014 by Kelton, an independent research firm. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent and a confidence level of 95 percent.

While the survey showed some encouraging news regarding what Americans know about genetics, it also uncovered a lot of gaps in people’s knowledge of basic genetic science.

Many people – more than two out of five – don’t know that DNA is grouped into chromosomes, and only about one in four people know that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. (That one hurt at 23andMe.) There was also a lot of confusion, both from men and women, about the sex chromosomes. About half of women incorrectly believed that females are XY (it’s XX), and about a quarter of men got it wrong. Less than half of those surveyed knew that your genetics also plays a role in how your body might respond to certain drugs and medication.

While everyone surveyed was over the age of 18 and may have only a distant memory of high school biology, some of this basic knowledge is important in everyday life. For example, couples considering children would do well to understand the principles of inheritance and how some serious inherited conditions are passed from one generation to another. Knowing that you may respond differently to prescribed medication because of your genetics might also be important to know. Earlier this month a review article by science education specialists at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) also found that understanding of genetics failed to keep pace with the rapid advances in the science in recent years. Bridging that gap could help society take full advantage of the potential genetic breakthroughs have for transforming medicine, according to reviewers.

23andMe aims to help individuals understand their genetic information through DNA analysis and research. The company also provides a variety of free educational resources available to anyone on its website. Take a look at 23andMe’s popular Genetics 101 series.