Sunday, July 13, 2008

what's in your mix?


A couple of weeks ago, I had to make a trip out to the vet's for my cat. While there, I spied a brochure that I just had to pick up. Sporting the slogan "Because different breeds have different needs!" it advertised something called Wisdom Panel MX Mixed Breed Analysis. As you might guess, the company in question (the system is owned by one Mars Veterinary) offers a "scientific breakthrough for mixed breed dog owners." For between $135 and $175, Mutt owners take their dogs to the vet to get blood drawn, and the vet sends the sample to the folks at Mars Veterinary, who apparently have proprietary DNA information on 134 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Association. In a few weeks, the results are in, and *presto,* you now know your dog better than ever! In particular, the brochure says the system can help you get to know your mixed-breed's personality and/or help you understand what breed-specific health problems your dog might get.

Or so we're told. A couple of articles I found on the subject seem to indicate that no one's really tested how accurate the system is...which rung a familiar tune in my brain. A day or two after the vet visit, I happened to catch an episode of 60 Minutes in which reporter Lesley Stahl looked into the new business of tracing your ancestry through DNA. The upshot was that the few companies that do so-called "genetic genealogy" are great at marketing but not so amazing at giving people real information. What's more, it seems that this wasn't the first such report; Popular Science ran a piece essentially saying the same thing five years ago.

To be sure, it's a thought-provoking topic—at least enough to warrant a book on the subject! As someone who's interested in genealogy, I'll admit that the idea of tracing your roots beyond the ancestors you already know of is fascinating. But as someone who also has a science background, it gets hard to believe that we've come up with a reliable way to determine where all of your great great great great grandparents (all 64 of them) came from, as well as what ailments they had. And yes, that goes for Fido, too. &infin

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