DNA banking and do-it-yourself DNA kits

05/08/2002

By Lori Matsukawa, KING 5 News

In a time when DNA is helping police catch killers and solve old crimes, people are beginning to turn to DNA technology to protect their families.

DNA banking is a growing trend in the United States as more and more people are rushing to buy do-it-yourself DNA kits in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedy.

Lisa and Jim Hanigan are parents of a little girl named Kate.  The horrific events of last fall made many people, like the Hanigans, realize that you can never say "never."  It's making them understand you should do everything possible to protect against the unthinkable.

How is DNA taken?
DNA cells can be taken from a cotton swab or a blood test.
A buccal/mouth swab resembles a cotton covered Q-tip.
When you rub the inside of your cheek with a swab, your cells stick to the fibers.
The test may be self-administered at home or work, performed at a collection facility or by your regular physician

"The tragedy of September 11 got us thinking about it," says Lisa Hanigan.

The Hanigans hadn't thought much about storing their DNA when it was just the two of them. But they say when Kate came along it began to make a lot of sense.

The Hanigans have decided to bank her DNA and theirs as a precaution.

"We would have a way to possibly find her or identify her, if necessary," says Lisa.

 

But helping to identify a missing child is just one reason DNA banking is becoming popular. 

Other reasons include tracking family medical history and protecting your estate from fraudulent claims.

Even members of the military are doing it just in case the worst should happen.

DNA Diagnostics Center in Fairfield, Ohio is one of several companies offering the service and says the procedure is easy.

"We have tens of thousands of DNA samples in our storage unit right now," says Lisa McDaniel of DNA Diagnostics.

"We can send a kit right to your home and you can swab your mouth."  According to Jim Hanigan all they had to do was swab the inside of their mouths to collect cheek cells.  "It took about 5 minutes," he said.

After swabbing your cheek, you ship your DNA back to the bank were it is analyzed and stored.
Depending on the company, the DNA storage costs anywhere from fifty dollars for 15 years, to more than $200 for 25 years.

Proponents stress that the storage is safe.  "Nobody can get to it unless you want them to get to it," says McDaniel.

But, not everyone agrees about the safety of the DNA banks.  Dr. Michael Watson of the American College of Medical Genetics tracks DNA banks.  While he says banking your DNA can be useful, he's some problems.

"Ive known of many DNA banks... the material wasn't well maintained and degenerated over time" Watson says.  And, Watson says a few companies have even lost tracking of who's who in the banks.  "Because of clerical errors and other things," Watson explains.

DNA Diagnostics Center insists those problems don't exist when the DNA is handled properly.

DNA vs Fingerprinting

Proponents say one big selling point to banking DNA is that DNA can't change, like fingerprints can. 

The FBI, however, has not made the change, saying "fingerprinting is still the premiere form of identification.

The FBI says it relies on fingerprinting because it would take a major burn or disease to alter one's fingerprints.  The Bureau also says that while no two people have the same prints, identical twins share the same DNA.

But the Hanigans still feel better about keeping their DNA tucked away.  Fingerprinting may be good they say, but storing their DNA gives them peace of mind.

"By banking our parents' DNA, and ours, and Kate's, Kate might someday be able to use genetic information through the testing," says Jim Hanigan.

Experts interviewed for this report say in order to protect yourself, make sure you bank your DNA in two separate locations and ask what happens to your DNA if the company goes out of existence.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

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