UAHS students reflect on their experiences with genetic testing

By Hallie Underwood, ’20

As soon as senior Katherine Brothers sent her genetic test to the lab, her mind began to race. Brothers was adopted from Kazakhstan, a country in central Asia. She decided to take a genetic test through 23&Me because she did not know much about her family history.

Aside from not eating or drinking for 30 minutes before the test, the process was easy. The quick process consisted of spitting in a tube, putting the cap on, shaking it, and sending it to the lab with a return label.

Brothers was able to explore a much more complex description of her ancestry than expected.

Her ancestry: 64.8 percent Russian, 29 percent Mongolian, and the rest dispersed throughout European nations. Learning about her genetic makeup inspired Brothers to dig deeper into her heritage.

“It’s encouraged me to keep researching about Kazakhstan and possibly find more related relatives,” Brothers said. “Through this test, I found a third cousin who was also adopted from Kazakhstan. It was cool to reach out to her and learn more about her.”

Photo courtesy Katherine Brothers

Brothers, however, was not alone. In a voluntary survey of 207 participants, UAHS students reported 21.3 percent of them have participated in a test like 23andMe or AncestryDNA in hopes to learn more about their ancestry and genetic background.

A Larger Scale

Another UAHS student with experience using genetic testing services is senior Gabe Walsh. He used 23&Me to learn more about his family history, as his mom was building a family tree.

“I was surprised at how specific and accurate the data was,” Walsh said.

For freshman James Turner, his AncestryDNA results came as a surprise. Keeping his results bookmarked on his laptop, Turner is now able to confidently discuss his genetic background. While he had heard family stories about British ancestors, he was surprised by his Irish background.

Photo by Hallie Underwood

“My experience with the genetic test was great,” Turner said. “I am able to tell people that I am Irish.”

As services that offer genetic testing become more popular, connections to family grow stronger. For some, it is simply satisfying a curiosity. For those like Katherine Brothers, it defines what family means altogether.