February 27, 2013

At more colleges, classes on genetics get personal

Ryan J. Foley / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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University of Iowa Professor Jeff Murray talks about his genetic profile during his honors seminar on personal genetics in which students had the option of sending saliva samples so a testing company could use DNA to unlock some of their most personal health and family secrets.


"That will happen one of these days," he said.

He said 90 percent of the students have opted to test their own DNA rather than a random person's, and a class survey found that students who did so retained more information.

University of Iowa professor Jeff Murray has been teaching human genetics for 25 years, and developed last fall's class after reading about similar ones elsewhere. He talked through the pros and cons of testing with students, and spent two class periods examining 23andMe's consent form. Murray encouraged students to consult with their parents, through their consent was not required — students were all 18 or older. Only a few opted out of the testing after they or their parents raised concerns.

"Some people just didn't want to know if they are going to get breast cancer or Alzheimer's," said one of Murray's students, Alexis Boothe, 18. "Personally, I wanted to know."

She said she was not surprised when she learned she's seven times more likely than the average person to develop Crohn's disease, a bowel disorder, since it runs in her family. But now she said she can make sure not to smoke and watch her stress, two triggers. Boothe said she was amused when she learned that she shares northern European ancestors with the singer Jimmy Buffett, and when a third cousin she doesn't know sent her a message through the company.

For Hajdarevic, one surprising result was that he may be lactose intolerant. Although he's eaten dairy without issue his whole life, he can now monitor for symptoms that could develop later. He also learned he's a carrier for the mild form of a rare genetic disease, Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency.

But overall, he says, he was relieved.

"I was kind of scared going in, like, 'Oh my God, I might have a high risk factor for some kind of cancer'," he said. "But knock on wood, according to the test, I don't really have much to worry about."

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