Unravelling DNA: An explainer on the political and social consequences of DNA testing and databases

DNA testing is being used in an increasing number of ways, with serious social and political  consequences – from identifying unknown biological relatives, “revealing” information about your heritage, or providing information about your health. 

DNA isn’t just about a single person – it reveals information about someone’s biological relatives, their ancestors, and even potential future generations. This has big impacts on privacy and our collective rights – what a person living today does with their DNA could affect the lives of people they never even met, and even the lives of people who aren’t even born yet. 

There are many different types of DNA tests that are used today – some of which have high levels of certainty in terms of the results, others which rely upon problematic and inaccurate social or political assumptions, and still others where the science itself has limitations (even though those limitations might not be well communicated). And as the use of DNA testing rises, so too does the creation of databases of DNA, which brings with it another set of concerns. 

This zine is offered as a way for people to get a quick and broad overview of the social and political consequences of the rise in DNA testing and DNA databases. 

Understanding these consequences, which cut across many areas of social justice and human rights, will be crucial for digital civil society to be able to effectively advocate for people’s rights, as affected by DNA. The zine offers an overview of the consequences, with real life examples, and the risks and uses of DNA in society today.

There are many resources out there that provide much deeper dives into specific areas of working on DNA that are mentioned in the zine. 

How to read the zine: 

  • Print and fold your own copy: download the zine here if you’d like to print your own copy. Print it double sided on A4 paper, then fold it to make your own zine – the pages will be in the right order once they are folded! This might be a good option if you’d like to annotate it, or add it to your own library. 
  • Read it online.