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The future's bright for DNA mappers

The future's bright for DNA mappers

| 24.02.2010 | Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Daniel Zakrisson was always interested in genetics. Not surprising, perhaps - he's an identical twin. He and his brother have taken part in twin studies since they were children. Now he runs a company offering to map your DNA.

"Nobody else in Sweden have experience within our field," he says as we arrive at the DNA-Guide's offices on the fourth floor in Artillerigatan in Stockholm. 

"We started in June 2008 as the first to offer DNA profiles to the Swedish public. We don't do our own lab work - what we offer is a safe way to get information about your DNA and then we'll explain that information to you in a way that is easy to understand."

He is convinced the future is bright. The cost of performing genetic analysis is going down and he believes demand is about to explode. A DNA test costs €360. You get a little green box containing a little plastic container and some information material. You leave some saliva in the container and send it off to a lab in Estonia.


"We don't have to use just that lab, but it is one of the oldest commercial labs in Europe. Estonia aims to create a large gene bank, just like Iceland," says Daniel Zakrisson. He shares bright, nearly clinically white offices with Isabel Lenngren and Annie Rosén. The company employs eight people in all, including two medical doctors. The walls are decorated with framed posters of futuristic skyscrapers. 

Safety first

It is important to use saliva rather than strands of hair for genetic testing.

"That way we know this is not somebody trying to get information about someone else. It takes five minutes to fill the container, so people have to be conscious of what they are doing," he says.

DNA tests still have a somewhat funny reputation. Many people are scared of having one done, because they believe the results might deal them a death sentence.

"We guarantee to not give you any information about any incurable illnesses. There is always a correlation between genes and the environment. You can influence your own situation."

The company webpage lists examples of the information you can glean from a DNA sample. 'Are you at increased risk of blood clots, cancer or diabetes? Are you resistant to HIV or the seasonal winter flu? Are you lactose intolerant? With knowledge about your DNA you can make decisions about your future health and adapt your lifestyle to secure a longer and healthier life. You will also learn more about inherited qualities and your heritage.'

Getting the right information

Isabels Lenngren's job is to hunt for information relevant to DNA-Guide's customers by reading scientific publications.

"It's important to find good and relevant reports. Ideally we're looking for studies involving a few thousand people. Many illnesses don't manifest themselves though patterns unless your study group is around 20,000 large," she says.

Both she and Annie Rosén have yet to DNA-test themselves.

"But I have been giving it some thought. I'd be especially interested in genetic variations which increase the risk of blood clots. If you identify a particular type you should for instance avoid taking the pill," says Isabel Lenngren.

Three percent of the Swedes are a thousand times more at risk of developing blood clots than the rest of the population. 8,000 out of a total of nine million Swedes develop a blood clot every year.  

Wet or dry ear wax?

You can choose to have a DNA test purely to find out about your ancestry. In the USA genealogists are among the biggest customers of DNA tests, and there is a lot of debate about it in social media. Other tests will indicate whether you might go bald, if your muscles are good for explosive exercise, if you've got wet or dry ear wax or whether you are particularly sensitive to the smell of sweat. 

"Knowledge around DNA increases all the time. We test our customers against a few hundred of the most interesting markers. But in a few years, when the price for mapping your entire DNA has fallen, our knowledge will truly expand," says Daniel Zakrisson.

"People will want to map their entire DNA once during their lifetime. We can help them keeping up to date on research which is relevant to their particular genetic variations. In the USA there are already 40 medications warning of possible side effects for people who have certain gene variations. Sweden is behind in this field, with only two medications listing such information," says Daniel Zakrisson.

He is convinced genetic testing and research will employ a lot of people as tailored medical care becomes more common, and as people's appetite for learning about their own heritage and genes increases.

"But genes aren't the answer to everything - although I am an identical twin, I am still seven centimetres taller than my brother," he says.

Isabel Lenngren

with a DNA test container (above). She has studied bio-informatics and keeps abreast of new medical research. 


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