Being involved with a number of dog rescue groups, I got forwarded an excited email last week about a new Canine Heritage Breed Test for dog breeds from MetaMorphix, Inc. Dog rescue advocates thought this product would make a huge impact on dog rescue and adoption. Now, rather than guess at a breed mix and the accompanying traits and temperaments that go with the mix, this DNA-based diagnostic test could be used to determine the breed composition (using up to 38 major breeds). The test is easy to administer and requires only a cheek swab sample to be mailed in for analysis. Results are returned in 4-6 weeks.

For the hundreds of adult dogs in rescue, the product could lead better placements and adoptions. On the flip side, however, it could likely lead to many rescue dogs being put down because of aggressive breeds in their mix – Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and German Shepherds are often turned down by mixed-breed rescues because of bad breed reputations and a tendency towards aggressiveness.

This got me to thinking about how clinical laboratories might be faced with similar technology in the coming years. After a bit of Dark Daily research, I found that genetic tests for human ethnicity already exist. mtDNA Haplogroup Testing uses mitochondrial DNA to track ethnic heritage inherited from the maternal genetic line. If you are interested in your paternal line, there are a series of paternal ancestry services available from Oxford Ancestors. The company even features a product called Tribes of Britain for men with descendents from the British Isles to determine which British tribes were likely part of their ancestry. The genetic tests for humans, much like those for dogs, are simple to administer (a check swab is used, packaged, and mailed in). The results usually return in under 6 weeks by mail.

The ethical questions that arise from offering such tests to people are plentiful. Perhaps some people, like some animal rescue groups, will be devastated to find that they have an ethnicity that they are embarrassed about. These types of tests educate consumers about not only their ethnicity, but about the possibilities of genetic testing – for better or for worse.

Although some laboratorians may have ethnical concerns about offering such tests, these tests are likely to be enjoyed by consumers. That is why some non-clinical companies have sprung up to offer these non-medically necessary genetic tests – for which consumers are happy to pay from their own pockets. An entrepreneurial lab company could easily take out an advertisement in a genealogy magazine offering to sell and process the tests to individuals interested in determining their ethnicity and have a steady stream of profit. The challenge for all clinical laboratories with these new genetic tests will be to stay abreast of the diverse ways that companies may offer genetic testing to consumers.