What Do You Know, It’s DNA Day

The number of Americans who say they’ve used an at-home DNA test has more than doubled in the last year — and even among those who have not tested, the majority say they want to, according to a new national survey commissioned by 23andMe.

In the lead up to another National DNA Day celebrating the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the date when Watson and Crick’s paper on the structure of DNA was published in Nature journal on April 25, 1953 — 23andMe partnered with Kelton Global for the survey that looked at Americans’ attitudes and understanding of genetics and DNA testing. The survey found that Americans’ abiding interest in DNA testing — more than seven in ten of those who haven’t yet tested said they were interested in testing — is far ahead of Americans’ understanding of the science of genetics.  

Many Americans still struggle with some of the basic genetic concepts, according to the survey. For example, seven in ten of those surveyed didn’t know that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and a little over half, 54 percent, did not know that human genes are made up of DNA. But about 80 percent of respondents knew that your DNA is inherited from parents, 66 percent understood that your DNA impacts traits and eye color, and more than half understood that DNA is organized into chromosomes.

But what survey respondents did understand is that the information they could learn from genetic testing could have in impact on their health.

Indeed what is driving much of this interest is people’s focus on their personal health, according to the survey. More than seven in ten people, or 71 percent of those surveyed, said that they wanted to test to learn about their genetic health risk. And that interest didn’t waiver even if the test might reveal a risk for an incurable disease. Almost three-quarters, 72 percent, of those surveyed said that their answer would be the same even if they were to learn about a risk for a disease for which there was no cure.

Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they would want to know if they had a risk for Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and about 73 percent said they’d be interested in learning if they had a risk for Parkinson’s disease.

While those numbers illustrate a sustained interest in DNA testing, particularly for learning more about about personal health, the survey highlighted a gap between interest and knowledge in genetics. That gap in genetic literacy mirrors a similar gap in general science literacy in the United States.

23andMe sees this as an opportunity to educate. Our Education team recently launched a new DNA Discovery page that includes clear and concise educational modules to explain basic genetic concepts. We’ve created Genetics 101 booklet, lessons for teachers, helpful online videos and even children’s books, all to help bridge the gap. Our Medical Education team also offer webinars and Continuing Medical Education (CME) course and for medical professionals.

Earlier this year, after receiving FDA authorization to offer customers our BRCA1/BRCA2 (Selected Variants) report, 23andMe launched its Do You Speak BRCA? webpage to educate the BRCA genes, and some of the history around research into BRCA-related cancers. 23andMe’s report looks at three variants of the more than one thousand variants associated with an increased risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

In addition, on DNA Day, 23andMe will have a live broadcast on 23andMe’s Facebook page with the goal to inform people about what they can learn through genetic testing. The day-long event will also include talks by 23andMe scientists who’ll cover some of our latest research as well as what goes into creating some of our product features.

”The goal of DNA Day has always been about more than just celebrating landmark discoveries in genetics,” said Thao Do, Ph.D., and manager of 23andMe’s Education and Academia Program. “It’s about bringing awareness and education around DNA  by making it fun and accessible to everyone. It’s exciting to see people’s eyes light up when they have an ahah! moment. These beautiful moments motivate us everyday to create resources and organize events to connect with people through genetics education.”

23andMe partnered with Kelton Global to generate the 23andMe DNA Survey, which was conducted between March 26th and 30th, 2018 among 1,000 nationally representative Americans ages 18+, using an email invitation and an online survey, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.