DNA not a good predictor of health, researchers find

John Ulan

In most cases, genes have less than five percent to do with your risk of developing a particular disease, according to new research by University of Alberta scientists, which was published in the journal PLOS One.

In a large meta-analysis, scientists examined two decades of data from studies that examine the relationships between common gene mutations, also known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and different diseases and conditions. The results show that the links between most human diseases and genetics are shaky at best.

The study also highlights some notable exceptions, including Crohn's disease, celiac disease, and macular degeneration, which have a genetic contribution of approximately 40 to 50 percent.

David Wishart, PhD, co-author of the study and professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Computing Science, and his research collaborators suggest that measuring metabolites, chemicals, proteins, or the microbiome provides a much more accurate measure of human disease risk and are also more accurate for diagnosis.

"Simply put, DNA is not your destiny, and SNPs are duds for disease prediction," said Wishart "Despite these rare exceptions, it is becoming increasingly clear that the risks for getting most diseases arise from your metabolism, your environment, your lifestyle, or your exposure to various kinds of nutrients, chemicals, bacteria, or viruses." 

The findings fly in the face of many modern gene testing businesses models, which suggest that gene testing can accurately predict someone's risk for disease.

"The bottom line is that if you want to have an accurate measure of your health, your propensity for disease or what you can do about it, it's better to measure your metabolites, your microbes or your proteins, not your genes," said Wishart. "This research also highlights the need to understand our environment and the safety or quality of our food, air, and water."