Why DNA Tests Are Such Big Business

The DNA testing market is one of the most surprising business successes of modern times, and as of November 2018, over 15 million people had completed a DNA test since they were first introduced. But how is a seemingly niche industry on track to reach $10.04 billion by 2022?

Here, we outline exactly why DNA tests are proving irresistible to people from all walks of life.

DNA testing

Why do people buy DNA tests?

Though DNA testing is most commonly associated with paternity, comparison website DNA Testing Choice notes that there are over 25 different types of DNA test that can be bought online and taken by customers at home.

Ancestry testing, for example, provides insight into a person’s lineage and could establish an unexpected connection to a particular country, or uncover relatives from around the world. Meanwhile, health testing predicts an individual’s susceptibility to particular diseases, which could give users time to prepare for any necessary treatment, or encourage a lifestyle change to avoid serious illnesses. As some findings have life-changing potential, it’s no wonder so many people choose DNA testing to help shape their lifestyle.

How has DNA testing become so popular?

Though commercial DNA testing has existed for over a decade, it only started to take off when providers made their services more affordable to the public. 23andMe was the first company to begin offering autosomal DNA testing for ancestry, a method now used by all other other major providers. However, only when the company dropped its price from $1,000 to $399 in 2008 did its customer base begin growing. This prompted the company to lower the cost of its services again in 2012, this time to $99. Now, ancestry tests in general can be purchased for as little as $49.

DNA testing is also a core part of many companies in the most popular industries, who use genetics to provide added benefits to customers. For example, DNA-based skincare provider GENEU tailors products to customers’ DNA profiles. Dr Martin Stow, Group CEO of GENEU, says the potential of DNA testing “lies in consumers being able to take a simple on-the-spot test so they can make more informed product choices”. Similarly, the multi-billion dollar fitness sector has been targeted by companies like DNAFit, tailoring exercise programmes according to the genetic information of its clients.

The phenomenon could also stem from the cultural authority held by science in modern society. According to a recent study by Queen Mary University, public trust is higher for scientists than the government, and these tests fit in with these perspectives. If we can see personality traits are rooted in our DNA, more customers will be more willing to buy a test to check their own results.

Genetics researcher doing analysis

What does the future hold for DNA testing?

The industry is likely to receive additional investment now researchers have so much data to work with—AncestryDNA has over 10 million people in its database alone. US doctors believe that newborns will eventually be given a genetic report card detailing the percentile they’re in for certain health problems.

It’s also possible that DNA may help predict how a child will look when they grow up. An algorithm that was built to identify an individual’s face based on their genome was correct over 70% of the time when used to select a particular face from 10 options. However, geneticists have insisted that the study “misrepresents” what was achieved in reality, as merely knowing age, sex, and race was enough to rule out most of the individuals involved.

As DNA testing is becoming more ubiquitous, it is also expected to be integrated into fitness wearables, like the Fitbit, in order to provide tailored and precise readings for more focused goals. Elsewhere, there is a growing interest in gene-based personalised nutrition. In 2016, Campbell Soup Company invested in Habit, a service that makes food recommendations based on an individual’s unique genome. More recently, Waitrose teamed up with start-up DnaNudge to launch a clinical trial based on an app that informs shoppers whether particular foods are compatible with their DNA and metabolism.

Needless to say, there are still countless ways to utilise genetics in modern society, and the popularity of DNA testing is surely set to grow even further as more data is being analysed and stored.