Should I sequence my genes?

What surprises might you find lurking in your DNA, and can that information be used against you?
18 April 2017
Presented by Georgia Mills
Production by Georgia Mills.


Crystal ball


If you had a crystal ball that told you your future, would you look? Many of us are doing the next best thing: genetic tests. By examining your DNA you can find out your risks of certain diseases, how certain drugs might affect you and hidden secrets from your past. But does this knowledge come at a price, and can that information be used against you? This week, the Naked Scientists examine the secrets and surprises we might find when we probe our DNA.

In this episode

02:41 - What is DNA?

DNA explained, with a little help from some ukuleles.

What is DNA?
with Patrick Short, University of Cambridge

Ready or not, the genetic age is upon us. DNA tests are used all over the world, by engaged couples seeing if they are genetically compatible, by migration services aiming to prove or disprove ancestry or family claims, and by health services to try and tailor medicine to your DNA. And now, direct to consumer tests means we can if we want, choose to take a peek inside our own genetic code. But is this a force for good - enlightening us about our health, and showing us who we are, or are we opening pandora's box - learning things about our past and future that should be kept hidden? Georgia Mills spoke to Patrick Short, a PhD student at Cambridge University, to get the lowdown on DNA, with a bit of help from some props... 

09:14 - Do your genes reveal your disease destiny?

How much can your DNA tell you about your future health, and is this information a blessing or a curse?

Do your genes reveal your disease destiny?
with Jonathan Roberts,

A lot of people get DNA testing from professional health services to find out about their health. They might already have a disease and are looking for a genetic cause, or might have a family history of a disease and want to know if they are carriers. But this information can be a blessing or a curse, and it’s not always clear what it means. This is where genetic counsellors like Jonathan Roberts come in, as Georgia Mills found out…

21:08 - Unlocking your ancestry with a genetic test

DNA tests can reveal your ancestry, as well as any skeletons your family may have in the closet!

Unlocking your ancestry with a genetic test
with Peter Forster, University of Cambridge and Roots for Real

The fact that DNA ties us together with our family, is exactly why some people are interested in it. Because as well as your possibly future, your DNA holds the key to your past. Many online services claim to offer you clues about your ancestry. Peter Forster is a fellow in Archaeology in Cambridge University, and also owns such company - Roots for Real - which people use for a variety of different reasons. Georgia Mills asked him about the people who use the service...

Searching the internet on a laptop

32:30 - Who owns your DNA data?

Who can get hold of your DNA information, and what can they do with it?

Who owns your DNA data?
with Anna Middleton, Wellcome Genome Campus, University of Cambridge

Is there a chance your data could fall into the wrong hands, and if so - what could they do with it? And if your DNA data reaches the right hands, can it be used to do good? Georgia Mills spoke to Head of Society and Ethics research at the Wellcome Genome campus in Cambridge - Anna Middleton.

Judge's gavel

40:28 - Genetic Discrimination

Are employers allowed to use your genetic information against you?

Genetic Discrimination
with Ellen Wright Clayton, Vanderbilt University Medical Centre

Many people are aware of the nightmare scenario of the film Gattaca - the dystopian future in which your DNA dictates even the jobs you’re allowed to get - but is this really something we should be worried about? The EU currently bans genetic discrimination by employers, in the UK use of genetic tests by employers is restricted by the Equality Act,  and in the USA - they currently have something called GINA…Georgia Mills spoke to Ellen Wright Clayton,  a professor of pediatrics and law at Vanderbilt University Medical centre.

A molecular model of a fragment of DNA

Epigenetics: Does DNA count for everything?
with Oliver Rando, Massachusetts Medical School

Are we giving DNA a little bit too much credit? If you know identical twins you’ll know that they’re not really identical. Our environment counts for a lot. Plus, there’s something called epigenetics….


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