Your Saliva: A Crystal Ball to Your Offspring?

A company unlocks DNA to determine what you could pass on to your offspring.

March 30, 2009, 6:59 PM

March 31, 2009 — -- Women, like New York City resident Kelcey Kintner, believe their spit could tell them a lot about the future of their offspring.

Kintner is part of a bold, new online initiative that aims to empower women and science with new knowledge about the experience of pregnancy.

A kit from genetic coding company 23 and Me lets users -- women and men -- spit into a tube and then send it off to a lab that analyzes the DNA in about 10 weeks.

Then, the company sends the results and the user can choose to start exploring her or his genome.

"When I first heard about it I thought, 'I don't want to have anything to do with that.' I just had a lot of fears," said Kintner, who is blogging about her experience.

You can learn more about Kintner and her experience with 23 and Me by reading her blog, Mamma Bird Diaries.

23 and Me offers relatively inexpensive and simple genetic testing for the masses. For a $399 fee the company will map your DNA and tell you if you're predisposed to as many as 90 different conditions, such as lupus or lactose intolerance.

23 and Me co-founders Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey said they believe the information could help potential parents make decisions about their lives.

Wojcicki and Avey are reaching out to mothers and professional bloggers like Kintner, to help increase the dialogue and database surrounding pregnancy issues.

"One of the things we really want to do is allow women to have healthier pregnancies, because we believe that's going to lead to better health outcomes for you and most importantly, for your child," Wojcicki said.

"The Web flattens the world and now you have pregnant women all over the world who are sharing and comparing," Avey said.

For Wojcicki, the business isn't just professional; it's personal. She and her husband Sergey Brin, who is Google's co-founder, recently discovered after their own testing that Brin is predisposed to Parkinson's disease, which means it may become an issue for their newborn son as well.

"We feel we've been really empowered," Wojcicki said. "We want to focus on the treatment of it."

DNA Testing: The Controversy

Wojcicki said the information from genetic testing can serve as a preventative measure for some diseases.

"I am really focused on the prevention -- how to prevent this or really stave it off as long as possible," she said of her husband's Parkinson's predisposition. "Right now we don't really have a system set up based on what you may be predisposed to and what you could potentially do to prevent that."

Avey and Wojcicki said they believe that if parents are armed with information, they can do something about things beforehand. They view it as a way to change health care.

"I think pregnant women are so motivated to do things for their own health and the health of their child," Wojcicki said. "So, I think pregnant women are going to be able to show us how to make a significant difference in health care."

The mass marketing of genetic testing has caused trepidation and even controversy.

"It's a little bit like playing God and I don't want to have anything to do with that," said one pregnant woman.

"I'd rather live my life not knowing what's in store. Kind of too much information can be a scary thing," another expectant mother said.

Even Kintner, who said she believes in the effort to provide people with more information about their own DNA, has not yet looked at her results regarding Parkinson's disease, which she said is a particular worry to her.

"I know I will one day. I just have a lot of fear around it," she said.

Critics have expressed concern about the ramifications of the process, which some say could lead to people going crazy or becoming depressed.

But Avey said people shouldn't be afraid of the new prospect.

"It's really a personal choice. It's all about whether you are ready to become part of the genetic revolution," Avey said. "I think in the future, we'll think, 'Wow, you didn't do this? And you could have known that your child was predisposed to things that you could have tried to prevent?'"

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