Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Kate Lynch, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney
'Gay gene' testing apps aren't just misleading – they're dangerous

The launch of a genetic app titled “How gay are you?” prompted a well-deserved outcry from scientists and the public last month, with media coverage branding it “disgusting” and “the latest bad idea”.

The app, which has since been withdrawn from sale, was just one of many available from online app store GenePlaza. Billing itself as “a marketplace for genetic reports”, this site offers a wide range of genetic tests that promise to reveal unassailable truths about your sleep, health, neuroses, ancestors, and even your intellect.

The genes tested in each “genetic app” are sourced from scientific reports that have established links between particular genetic variants and particular traits. But the tests are not directly affiliated with the scientists or their studies, and the interpretation and communication of the data produced by the apps is done solely by the developers.

The science behind the test

“How gay are you?” used data from a paper published earlier this year in the prestigious journal Science, showing that sexual orientation has a significant genetic component. According to the research, 8-25% of same-sex sexual behaviours can be accounted for by leafing through a few specific pages of the (very) lengthy book that represents your personal genome.

Sexual orientation is complex – thought to be the product of many genes, as well as environmental effects. Although certain gene variants are weakly related to same-sex attraction, the authors of this paper took pains to point out that genetics cannot be used to predict sexual orientation.

Read more: 'Gay gene' search reveals not one but many – and no way to predict sexuality

So what use is a genetic test if it can’t predict individual differences? Not much, most scientists think.

Benjamin Neale, an author on the paper from which the genetic data was derived, sent a letter to GenePlaza asking it to take down the app. A change.org petition to remove the test has attracted around 1,700 signatures. “How gay are you?” now appears on GenePlaza under the name “122 shades of gray”, is no longer available for purchase, and carries a disclaimer stating that it does not predict same-sex attraction and is not associated with the authors of the Science study.

Genetic explanation and sexuality

These tests are not just useless, but potentially dangerous. Information about the genetic basis of traits can have profound effects on the way we understand ourselves and others.

For sexual orientation, the impacts of genetic information seem mixed. One study reported that learning about a biological basis for homosexuality increased anti-gay attitudes, whereas another found the opposite.

Although many people who identify as homosexual endorse a genetically determined view, among sexual minorities this belief seems to be a double-edged sword. Gay men who perceive their sexuality as biological are more certain about their sexual identity, but also view themselves as more different from heterosexuals and in turn experience more self-stigma.

For heterosexual and LGBT populations alike, more research is needed to know what psychological effects the results of genetic tests of this kind might have.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

For some other traits, it is already clear that belief in a genetic basis has a negative effect. Women given biological explanations of gender differences are more likely to hold negative self-stereotypes. In one study, women who were informed that women have genetically inferior mathematical ability went on to perform relatively poorly on a maths test.

This suggests that even if there is no genetic basis for a behaviour or ability, receiving a genetic explanation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. GenePlaza itself offers a Math Ability app, which promises to tell you how you stack up against the rest of humanity.

Obesity has also been shown to be affected by how we think about genes. Even the most common gene variant associated with obesity only explains a tiny fraction of the variability between individuals. Despite this, a whole cottage industry has sprouted to offer “genetically tailored” diets.

Not surprisingly, GenePlaza offers a My Weight app, with the tagline “can genes determine the size of your jeans?” The answer is possibly yes, albeit via your brain.

Learning that obesity has a genetic basis leads people to discount the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. In one study, participants given information about a link between genes and obesity ate more cookies than those who read a non-genetic explanation.

Perhaps most concerning is GenePlaza’s Depression App, which uses data from a 2018 Australian study to provide information about one’s genetic risk of depression (although it does feature a disclaimer that its results are “not a diagnosis, a prediction, or a predisposition score”).

Social psychologists have shown that when people are told they have a predisposition to depression they are less confident in their ability to cope, and even remember more depressive episodes in their recent past.

Belief in a genetic basis to mental illness not only affects our self-perception, but our attitudes to others too. When thought to be genetically based, people are more negative towards those with a mental illness and more likely to perceive them as dangerous.

Read more: Gene testing for the public: a way to ward off disease, or a useless worry?

These apps are marketed as a curiosity or as harmless fun. But there is danger in claiming to be able to use genetics to predict any aspect of someone’s identity, abilities, mental health or sexual orientation. Misunderstanding of genetic information can have grave consequences for those receiving it.

Authors: Kate Lynch, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/gay-gene-testing-apps-arent-just-misleading-theyre-dangerous-126522

Writers Wanted

Humans threaten the Antarctic Peninsula's fragile ecosystem. A marine protected area is long overdue

arrow_forward

United States' standing wanes on Lowy Asia Power Index

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Top 3 Accident Law Firms of Riverside County, CA

Do you live in Riverside County and faced an accident and now looking for a trusted Law firm to present your case? If yes, then you have come to the right place. The purpose of the article is to...

News Co - avatar News Co

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co

Expert Tips on How to Create a Digital Product to Sell on Your Blog

As the managing director of a growing talent agency, I use the company blog to not only promote my business but as a way to establish ourselves as an authority in our industry. You see, blogs a...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion