Scientists slam consumer genetic test for same-sex attraction

The authors of a paper debunking the ‘gay gene’ theory have criticised a Belgium company for marketing a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test that ostensibly measures consumers’ same-sex attraction (SSA). 

GenePlaza, a genetic prediction service similar to 23andMe and Ancestry, recently announced that it would offer users a test to measure their genetic predisposition for same-sex sexual orientation. The test, which was designed by tech start-up Insolent AI in conjunction with Uganda-based entrepreneur Joel Bellenson, relies on the findings of a paper published in Science in August that examined the genetic basis of SSA. 

According to the Science paper, SSA is not determined by one genetic-factor, but rather is determined by a range of genes which all appear to play a small contributing role in determining a person’s sexual orientation. The authors stated, furthermore, that “many uncertainties remain to be explored, including how sociocultural influences on sexual preference might interact with genetic influences”.

The GenePlaza test purports to “quantify the sum” of the genetic factors that appear to influence SSA. 

Yet according to critics, the app falsely claims that individual-level genetic prediction of same-sex attraction is possible. Last week the researchers behind the genetic association study sent a letter to GenePlaza urging them to take down the app. “Our study indicated that individual-level prediction is impossible for same-sex sexual behavior,” wrote Benjamin Neale, a behavioral geneticist at the Broad Institute, on behalf of the study’s authors. “The promotion of this app and, in particular, the claims it makes are a gross and dangerous mischaracterization of the work”. 

Joel Bellenson has defended the product, saying that he created the app with the intention of “mak[ing] bioinformatics fun” and to “[help] people accept all of our uniqueness as natural”. 

Yet critics fear that the app could be used for genetic discrimination, particularly in countries such as Bellenson’s Uganda. 

“They should take the app down,” Neale wrote in an email to the online science news website The Scientist. “It is irresponsible to charge people money for something that simply does not work and . . . to promote the idea that such scores are predictive, which they are not, regardless of the disclaimers that are being made”. 

The test includes a disclaimer that notes “this app does NOT predict same sex attraction”. 

Xavier Symons is deputy editor of BioEdge

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | direct to consumer, genetic determinism, genetic testing, same-sex attraction

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