Genetic testing is a $300 million business in the United States, but by 2025 it will be surpassed by a booming Chinese market. That’s according to a report in Bloomberg, which says Chinese parents are using DNA testing to predict their baby’s traits. The hope is to uncover what their strengths might be and tailor their parenting accordingly.
Take Chris Jung for example. He has a Hong Kong-based genetic testing company called Gene Discovery, which is just one of many similar Chinese companies offering parents a glimpse at their children’s future. Just months after his daughter was born in 2017, Jung took a sample of the little girl’s saliva to Gene Discovery’s lab for analysis. He had grand ambitions for his daughter, hoping she might one day become a doctor or a lawyer.
But the results told him otherwise. The analysis said his daughter would be strong in music, math, and sports, but that she’d be terrible at memorization. So, says Bloomberg, Jung plans to spend time and resources on developing his daughter’s talents, while at the same time keeping her away from professions that rely on memorization skills.
“Once I looked into the results, it talked about how her memory is so bad,” said Jung. “I switched my expectations because if I would like her to become a professional, she needs to study a lot and remember a lot.”
Shanghai mother Zhou Xiaoying also had a baby in 2017. While she was staying at a postpartum center, a rep from a genetic testing company told her that for a cool $1500 the company would run a DNA test for traits on her son’s saliva. Zhou agreed, and the analysis said her child would be gifted in music and the arts, but that he wouldn’t be good at athletics.
As a result, Zhou took her son out of his running and swimming classes. She says she’s going to buy him a piano instead.
“I wanted to know about his talents in the future so that I can set a direction for him,” said Zhou. “If you believe the results, then you can use it as a reference. If you don’t, that’s fine because it doesn’t hurt.”
This type of genetic testing has plenty of critics. Bloomberg says the claims made by Gene Discovery and others are “more horoscope than actual science.”
“There’s just no way a DNA test will tell you anything that’s meaningful about complex traits,” said Timothy Caulfield, a bioethicist at the University of Alberta who specializes in genetics. “And these parents are changing their kids’ lives.”
Although China is at the forefront of genetic science and has made a number of medical breakthroughs, it has also engaged in some curious endeavors. Because of lax regulations, Chinese scientists can push boundaries that cannot be tested in the United States. For example, they’ve created “super monkeys” by injecting their brains with human DNA.