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DNA company accused of fudging people's genetic test results

16 September 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1015

Seventeen former employees of a genetic testing company, Orig3n, have accused it of not meeting scientific standards and returning inaccurate results.

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, the employees, who had previously been managers, lab technicians, software engineers, marketers, and salespeople, said that the company's test results could not be replicated for the same person. The company, based in Boston, Massachusetts, allegedly built software to automatically return the initial outcome if a repeat analysis did not match. A technician has reported a document of 407 such errors over a period of three months from fewer than 2000 tests.

'Accurate science didn't seem to be a priority,' a former lab technician told Bloomberg. 'Marketing was the priority.'

Orig3n's genetic tests, costing between US$28 and $298, are used to advise customers on lifestyle choices and help them to identify their genetic predispositions and the 'superhero traits' that they are most likely to have.

The employees claim that the advice provided to customers was often generic good health practice collected from the internet or had limited scientific evidence. Examples included eating kale, wearing sunglasses, or eating sugar and almond oil to reduce stretch marks.

Co-founder and CEO of Orig3n, Robin Smith, said the company 'wholeheartedly' disputed these assertations. He said the company has operated under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) - US federal testing regulations to ensure proper practice, since November 2017 and that many of the claims concern a period before this.

'Orig3n had to change many of its laboratory staff precisely because they simply wanted to "do things their way", rather than in compliance with CLIA,' he said. He also offered to review any tests if customers have concerns. The former employees were at the company between the summer of 2015 and autumn 2018.

Orig3n was previously singled out as part of an NBC Chicago investigation into genetic testing in 2018. When the reporter submitted genetic material from a Labrador retriever called Bailey, the company produced a seven-page report about her genetic traits, stating that she had strong muscle force and cardiac output for long endurance, while failing to note that she was not a human. Other companies said that the genetic material was 'unreadable'.

Article Response: Customer Commitment
Orig3n |  18 September 2021
DNA Company Tampered With Results, Former Employees Say
Bloomberg |  11 September 2019
DNA testing company Orig3n is accused of fabricating results
Daily Mail |  11 September 2019
Home testing kits: what do they tell you?
NBC Chicago |  30 April 2018
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