Disagreeable, Lazy, and an Addict – What Genetic Tests Can Tell an Employer or a Partner
Warning: This post contains uncomfortable levels of personal information.
My name is David Rutland. I’m the managing editor of PIA’s blog, and I suppose this is as good an introduction as any. Better in fact – you’re going to learn more about me than, up until last week, I even knew myself.
Shocker, right? This is PIA, and we’re all about privacy. I, too, am all about privacy.
Settle in. It’s story time.
You’re probably aware that we’re approaching the fifth wave of a global pandemic, and I think it’s fair to say that we’re all sick of it by this point. I was infected in the first wave, and the experience was horrible, a fortnight of fever, aches, pain, and hallucination.
But I got better. Sort of. Months afterwards, I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that a wide range of food had lost its taste. The delicious and distinctive flavors of lamb, toast, and coffee were replaced by the same uniform acrid note. I couldn’t walk far, and I had to stop running altogether. My eyesight deteriorated, making it difficult to work on my 8.9 inch laptop. I had Long COVID, and I was living a miserable existence.
Then one day in September 2021, I woke up and I was miraculously better (although I still can’t drink coffee and my eyesight still sucks). That part of this story is now over.
Around the end of this period, I read about a study being carried out by COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative in conjunction with Sano Genetics – the idea was to investigate if and how genetics impact Long COVID symptoms and recovery.
This was not one of those spurious ‘find out that you’re 1/16th Native American and 1/4 Irish’ studies. It’s a legitimate research project with strong privacy protections and something approaching total data control.
After scouring the privacy policies to reassure myself, I assessed the risks, and determined that the study was worth taking part in. I spat in a jar, popped it into the postbox, and thought no more of it.
Why Am I Like This?
Sano Genetics is a proper research lab, carrying out legitimate genetic research into behavior and health conditions.
As a reward, for my participation in the study, they offered me a basic rundown of known genetic characteristics. Sure, I thought. Why not?
Objectively, based solely on my DNA profile, I am a terrible human being. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t employ me, I wouldn’t rent a house or car to me, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want me as the father of my kids.
I Am an Addict
As you’re probably aware, smoking is an indisputably bad thing. Evidence has been mounting up since the 1960s that smokers have a hugely increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and COPD, the list goes on, and in total, there are more than 50 serious health conditions related to smoking.
And yet people do it. Every year, new smokers buy a pack for the first time and embark on a long road that will almost inevitably lead to ill health and premature death.
Sure. Smoking is pleasurable, and yes, it does make you significantly cooler than the average non-smoker. But that doesn’t explain why people continue to smoke once the cool factor is gone; when their clothes stink and the sheer cost of cigarettes outweighs any potential enjoyment benefit.
It turns out there’s a genetic basis for nicotine addiction, and yes. I have it.
The test was correct. I am horrendously addicted to nicotine, and I have been since I was 15. Although I have not touched a cigarette in five years, I vape. A lot.
Alcohol is a scourge of society and excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the United States each year. It should come as no surprise that there is a genetic basis for alcohol misuse.
A person with two “A” markers is significantly less likely to drink than a person with an “A” and a “G”. My “GG” profile means that I am likely to drink heavily.
What This Tells Potential Employers and Partners
Given a pool of candidates, who in their right mind would hire the one who has a heavy genetic tendency towards addictive behaviors?
Smokers stink out the office. They’re always nipping out for cigarette breaks, and they can go off sick with a wide range of smoking-related illnesses. And if the company provides health insurance, your premium will go up.
If you saw this information on a dating profile, it would be quite reasonable for you to swipe left, regardless of how otherwise handsome, charming, and effortlessly cool you found me.
As a nicotine fiend, there’s a decent chance that I am less wealthy than I should be, and no one wants to set up a home with someone who may drink to excess.
Then consider that any children would share part of my DNA, and they would have a reasonable chance of inheriting my addictive tendencies.
Do you want problem teenagers? Because that’s how you get problem teenagers!
I Am Lazy, Awkward, and Difficult To Motivate
Conscientiousness is a personality trait associated with diligence and a desire to do a task well. According to the Sano report, “this trait reflects the tendency to be responsible, organized, hard working, and goal focused.”
There are three genetic sites associated with this trait, and at each of those sites, there are two alleles that can make up the gene. As you can see, I do not have a single copy anywhere.
If someone is agreeable, they’re usually easy to get along with. The opposite is argumentative and unpleasant. I am, at best, only one quarter as agreeable as I could be.
This one is open to interpretation depending on what it is you’re looking for. It means that I’m cool under pressure, but it could also to be taken to mean that I’m difficult to motivate.
How can you get someone to do something that they don’t want to do? You apply stress and pressure and deadlines.
Sorry, that’s not going to work.
What This Tells Potential Employers and Partners
Zero tendency towards conscientiousness? Really? How on earth did I manage to make it through the education system and gain proper employment? I am definitely not making it onto the candidate shortlist for any job I ever apply for ever again.
I’m afraid that once again, it would be a swipe left for any potential mates. No one wants to live with someone who argues all the time and doesn’t care enough to clean up after themselves and cook dinner.
Once more, think of the children!
On the other hand, if you can ignore all of my other faults, you’ll find I am a no-drama llama.
What Else Can You Learn From My Genetic Test?
Altogether, the Sano report covers a few dozen different areas – I would count them, but I am not conscientious enough to do so.
They’re deeply, deeply personal, and while I can certainly see the effects of genetic expression in some aspects of my personality and physical appearance, others seem way off the mark. Nonetheless, the genes exist, and the report is there to read.
- I am very likely to snore and fidget while I’m asleep.
- I have Neanderthal genes for hunter-gatherer and farmer.
- I’m not likely to develop male pattern baldness.
- I’m unlikely to snack between meals or eat candy.
- My skin burns in the sun thanks to a different set of Neanderthal genes.
- I have blue grey eyes.
- Another batch of Neanderthal DNA means that I’m probably up late at night (perfect for working across time zones).
How Does My DNA Test Relate to Privacy and Security?
The test provides a lot of information, and, apart from what I’ve shared in this article, I would like for it to remain private. It’s the kind of information that can be used against an individual in multiple ways, and the potential for damage and exploitation will only increase as new genetic markers are discovered and new tests run against existing genetic code.
In the opening section, I’ve given a few ways that knowledge of my DNA could act to my disadvantage. Here are some more…
Behavioral data is incredibly valuable to marketers, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Google and other web giants exist in their present form solely to find new and better ways of matching products to people.
In the unlikely event you’re not using an adblocker, you may have noticed that certain types of advertisements tend to follow you around. You’ll see an increase in vacation ads during the summer months, or chocolate if you’re going through a breakup, or if you’re expecting a newborn, you’ll be spammed with ads for buggies, bottles, and baby blankets before you’ve even told anyone the good news.
This is probably because you’ve been running searches for things such as: “Where to go on vacation?” or “How to move on after a breakup?” or “How accurate are pregnancy tests?”
For advertisers, there’s little point in trying to get the message across to people who would never buy the product anyway. The trick is in finding the people who are likely to want and need it, and then giving them a little extra shove.
A genetic profile can reveal your likes, dislikes, habits, and tendencies far better than even the most intrusive of online tracking.
Based on my profile, I might expect to be targeted with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a case of Marlboro delivered by Uber at 3am when I’m having trouble sleeping.
By itself, this isn’t too worrying. But the marketing industry has shown itself to be grossly irresponsible in its approach to targeting advertisements – targeting kids and teens who have yet to develop defenses against the insidious encroachment on their personal information.
In the somewhat dry words of the UK Government’s Interim Review into online targeting:
Online targeting approaches enable various people, such as children, those with poor mental health, and those with other types of vulnerability potentially unique to online exchanges, to be targeted on the basis of their vulnerabilities or other factors that correlate with them.
From a marketing viewpoint, your genetic data should remain private.
The report didn’t touch on markers for known genetic diseases, and for that, I am thankful. I don’t want to know that in addition to all of my other problems, I need to count down the clock toward my inexorable demise at the ripe old age of far too young.
The healthcare system in the US has a reputation for being costly and unfair. Premiums exclude many people, and if you have a preexisting condition, out-of-pocket expenses will cost significantly more. Failing to disclose a preexisting condition can invalidate your entire policy.
If US healthcare providers had legal access to this kind of genetic data, it could exclude some people completely. It’s unlikely that it would lower the premiums for anyone else.
This may seem far-fetched. After all, the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was designed to prevent discrimination on the basis of genetic information – it’s right there in the name. But GINA does not protect individuals from discrimination in life insurance or in long-term disability insurance.
And laws change. Legal protections that may be there one day can be gone the next, and attempts have already been made to reduce GINA protections. The legislation could be altered in future, but your DNA will still be on file.
Unless you are absolutely sure of who is able to access your genetic data, you probably shouldn’t surrender it at all.
What If I Commit a Crime?
Although my DNA test doesn’t show it, I am a very law-abiding citizen. I never stop in no-stopping zones, and I rarely go over the speed limit. As far as I’m aware, I have never stolen anything or killed anybody. I am consciously conscientious about doing the right thing in almost all circumstances.
The implications of my genetic profile are twofold in this area.
The first is that as my DNA is (currently) in a database that can be accessed with a warrant. If a strand of my hair is found at a crime scene, it can be traced back to me – whether or not I actually did the crime is irrelevant. There will be physical evidence linking me to the deed.
The other implication comes for the characteristics and tendencies that can be explored by looking through my Sano report.
The report says that I’m a disagreeable sort of person and that I am not at all conscientious. It says I stay up late and that I smoke and drink.
Does that count as evidence?
If the authorities are searching for a suspect who got into a late-night drunken argument at a gas station before carelessly dropping a lit cigarette on the floor, my DNA makes me a prime suspect.
You May Be Opening Yourself to DNA Profiling Without Ever Realizing It
I gave my DNA sample willingly, knowing that there are risks involved. Hopefully thousands of other people did, too. Maybe enough for researchers to actually get some useful data that can help people in the future.
Millions of people surrender their genome for various purposes: For example, establishing a family tree and discovering that, like every other person with European ancestry, they are descendants of Charlemagne the Great – King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans.
But there is a very real danger that your DNA may be collected, analyzed, and stored without your consent.
Last year, PIA’s Glyn Moody pointed out that one of the major suppliers of COVID test kits is Beijing Genomics Institute. In addition to helping keep the pandemic under control, the company is also building a Gene bank in Xinjiang.
William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), and the top U.S. counterintelligence official has expressed concerns that China has a “well-documented history of acquiring and exploiting vast troves of personally identifiable information, including health-related data, on individuals across the globe through illegal, quasi-legal and legal means.”
Every test that has been run on my DNA can be run on yours – if it’s out there.
Is DNA Profiling Accurate?
Based on my experience, I’d have to say that it’s more like having your palm read. Some things are self evident – yes, I’m a black hole for nicotine. It’s also true that I have a very low stress response.
What is better – to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?
As far as everything else goes, I am a complete human being. I work on myself and make efforts in areas where I believe myself to be lacking. As I mentioned earlier, I am consciously conscientious.
DNA is only part of the picture.
What Happens to My DNA After the Research Study Is Over?
I signed up for genetic testing for one very specific purpose. Everything else was a freebie, and I conscientiously read the terms and conditions before signing up.
Sano will use my data, for this one study, and it won’t be passed on. And if they want to use it for anything else, they will need to ask me first.
There is also a very obvious kill switch, which allows me to have my records wiped and my account reset in an instant.
If Sano is served with a lawful warrant while my DNA is still on file, they will have to cooperate. I have no objection to this.
But if I ever find myself covered in blood on a burning gas station forecourt, I’m going to hit that button.