Consumer genetics is here, and it seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon. In fact, the next generation of consumer genetics products may very well be complete genomic sequencing, as promised by Complete Genomics, and even Illumina.
Although we may be decades away from it (or maybe only years), we will one day be confronted by some form of genetic identity theft. What does this mean, and how will this happen? Let me explain.
How can my genes be stolen?
My genes are unique to me, and there is essentially a 0% chance that anyone else in the world has the exact set of As Cs Gs and Ts as I do (with the exception of identical twins). How could someone possibly steal my genetic profile?
In the not so distant future, any cellular sample may be viable for complete DNA sequencing. For instance, after enjoying a nice lunch at the diner, leaving behind just one strand of hair may be enough for a stalker/mad scientist to determine your entire DNA sequence. They would have the entire blueprint of you.
What can be done with stolen genes?
Okay, so someone may steal and sequence my DNA, but what good does that do them?
Right now, nothing. They might learn that you carry a mutated version of the HFE gene and may potentially have a child afflicted with Hemochromatosis. Even worse, they could find out that there is a 70% chance that you are lactose intolerant!
In the future, the chimeric child of DNA sequencing, Stem Cell Research, Developmental Biology, and Cellular Reprogramming would allow for someone to derive stem cells from your one strand of hair. These stem cells might then be transformed into sperm or egg precursors, and these cells would essentially allow anyone to have a child with you (without you). Think of the market for a service that advertises to prospective mothers: “Have a baby with Brad Pitt!” It’s actually kind of creepy.
It gets worse, and more obsessive. What if said “crazy Brad Pitt fan” decided that having Brad Pitt’s child was not enough. No. She wanted more…she wants Brad Pitt for a child! Stealing Brad’s DNA, sequencing it, and reprogramming cells with his DNA would allow for the creation of a Brad Pitt embryo. An in vitro fertilization procedure later, and Brad Pitt’s ultimate fan can now also be his mother (to crazy fan: seriously, don’t do this…running a fan website is enough devotion).
Holy $h*t That’s Messed Up! How Can I Prevent This (esp. if I am Mr. Pitt)?
Truthfully, this is not something you have to worry about right now. The technology just is not there yet, although all methods necessary for something like this to happen are either developed or in development.
When we do reach the point where this is a real possibility, I cannot think of any way to stop someone who was committed enough to having your child (or you as their child). Maybe you can hire a personal assistant to walk around and make sure that all strands of hair, saliva and any other DNA containing materials are properly collected and destroyed.
Only with the extreme case of celebrities can I imagine there being a “black market” for stolen DNA, and even then, I doubt demand would be high enough to fuel such an industry. However, I will never say never when predicting the future in this field. To all celebrities out there: Let me know when you get that phone call, “So I’m your mother…sort of.” I give it 5-10 years.