Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the material found in almost all living creatures that determines heredity. Although science has long known that heredity plays a part in personal traits, it was not until the 1950s that a group of scientists were able to see the DNA. Using an X-ray technique, the first picture of the now-famous double helix was recorded.
The following decades brought great advances in genetics, and once genetic research was teamed with computer technology, medical labs were able to advance DNA testing for individual patient use.
DNA has become the standard test for determining paternity and has removed all doubt from the process. While DNA can identify paternity beyond a doubt and can be taken by swab instead of the more invasive blood test of the past, the prospective father must still be located to appear in court. In addition, if the relationship is ongoing, a request for DNA testing may cause friction between the parents as it raises doubts regarding trust and fidelity.
In the past, inherited conditions such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell could only be identified before birth by determining whether the prospective parents were carriers of the syndrome or by fetal amniocentesis. DNA testing can confirm inherent conditions before conception, which has raised ethical questions as to whether a couple should decide to have children or not.
In addition, DNA has enabled adult individuals to be checked for predisposition to diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. The cost of testing can be prohibitive, and DNA testing will only show if the person has the tendencies for a disease. While this can enable the patient to make lifestyle changes to raise their chances of avoiding the particular disease, knowing one has a predisposition to a disease can also cause depression and give the patient a fatalistic attitude. This also raises ethical questions in the field of insurance and whether a person can be denied coverage because of a trait found through DNA testing.
The genetic markers of DNA can aid in family research, but again the cost can be prohibitive. Because the database only contains others who have been willing to contribute DNA samples, it can be restrictive in its results and not give the extensive ancestral information that is often hyped and hoped for.