Association for Molecular Pathology


October 2010, Volume 16, Number 3


Letter to the Editor

DTC Genetic Testing: Keep it Away from the Masses
By an Anonymous AMP Member

Dear Editor:

I am reluctant to put my thoughts on paper and send them to the Veterinary Food and Drug Administration lest they shine too bright a light on me personally and anger my libertarian colleagues within the AMP (Association for Monkey Pathology), not to mention those who believe in free markets.  First, therefore, I must thank you for publishing this letter anonymously.

Recently, 24andMe, Simiangenics, DecodeApe and others have made available DTC (Direct to Chimp) Genetic Testing.  This is madness!  Now that the sequences of all 24 chimpanzee chromosomes have been cataloged, does that mean we chimps will know what to do with the information being offered?  Clearly not.

Here are some examples, none of which is overcome by the fact that we can self-collect a buccal swab expertly with either hand or foot:

  1. As you know, we are an endangered species.  We appreciate your efforts to house us in zoos and primate research facilities but I'am down to only a few hundred cousins in Kenya.  And yet genotyping the Factor VIIYerkes gene is front and center on the DTC websites.  We should be doing all we can to promote procreation among my African relatives.  Some will cobble together the 395 bananas (that's a month's worth!") send in their specimen and obtain a Factor VII result that may encourage the use of oral contraceptives.  I know full well blood clots and the strokes they cause kill most of us before we turn 30.  How irresponsible to be providing individual genetic information that harms the greater good!
  2. NiTPCK: With apologies to those in AMP so fixated on formalizing genetic nomenclature, thank you for allowing me to use the common name of the gene that encodes a protein expressed in our simian brains.  As you well know, dear editor, NiTPCK plays a large role in chimp society.  We grow up grooming everyone else in the band; some are givers and some are takers of this warm and loving exercise, which does more than remove these nasty parasites' eggs; it helps forge important social bonds.  By empirically determining which chimps are which, we learn our place in the hierarchy.  Obtaining a shortcut to this information through a genetic test will wreak havoc with the formation of our finely knit, delicate social structure.
  3. The forkhead box P2 transcription factor, as reported in these pages only three years ago, is involved in speech development.  I think the dangers for discrimination among chimps are very real when some of us learn that our sons and daughters, unlike those of our cousins' progeny across the savanna, have a subset of the human polymorphisms associated with speech.  I, for one, am not interested in getting stuck in traffic behind a bumper sticker that reads: “My daughter has the human FOXP2 poly; does yours?"

Look, I could go on and on with examples for each of the other 22,497 genes in our genomes but here's the point.  By now, you more evolved humans have certainly solved all the regulatory, clinical, informatics, medical records and economic issues associated with DTC genetic testing.  Take the clinical angle as an example: our veterinarians are cretins with no hope of learning enough about chimpanzee genetics to guide us.  Certainly your human physicians are hundreds of thousands of years passed our vets on this evolutionary scale.

Do not allow this to continue.  We need your paternalistic approach; it has served us so well these last thousand years.  We chimps should not even be allowed to seek out DTC genetic testing.  We are too irresponsible to know what to do with the information and how to use it.  Please help us keep it from the masses.

Thank you for publishing my letter, dear editor.  I have known of your work for years but haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting you face to face.  I hope I do one day soon and to be able to not only shake your hand but also remove those nasty lice eggs from your scalp.

About the author: Anonymous is a former leader of the AMP and a respected molecular pathologist who, after a post-doc at the Detroit Zoo, has worked in hospital laboratory settings for over twenty years.  He is indeed a great ape and proud of his relatives in both the bonobo and human lineages that have helped forge his career.