About this event

  • Date and time Fri 22 Nov 2019 from 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Location Royal Society of Medicine
  • Organised by Medical Genetics, Medicine and Society

The direct to consumer genetic testing is on the rise worldwide, and while these tests provide people access to their genetic information without necessarily involving a healthcare provider, the patients seek their doctors' advice on the results. 

From genealogy to health, healthcare providers are expected to be able to respond to the patients' questions and be well informed of the benefits and risks of genetic testing direct to the public.

Through multidisciplinary lectures from renowned specialists as well as lively panel discussions, this event will give you a comprehensive view of the tests available and their implications. The meeting will close with a rerun of the dynamic 2018 Varsity debate on the subject and votes from the audience.

Meeting topics:

  • The genetic tests on offer, both for health and for ancestry.
  • Insight into the implications of DTC genetic testing.
  • Understand the potential impact of DTC in liver cirrhosis
  • Discuss the ethical concerns and challenges posed by DTC
  • Know the precision of ancestral DNA testing
  • Understand the impact of ancestral testing on populations

Key speakers

Professor Mark Thomas

Professor Mark Thomas

Professor of Evolutionary Genetics in the Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. He was formerly a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

Mark is notable for a number of scientific publications in the fields of human demographic and evolutionary history inference, molecular phylogenetics of extinct species using ancient DNA, Cultural evolutionary modelling, and molecular biology.

Speaker's biography

In 1994 Thomas was one of the first people to read the DNA sequence of the extinct woolly mammoth and in 1998 he coauthored a paper providing genetic support to the claim of recent patrilineal common ancestry among the Jewish priestly caste known as Kohanim (singular "Kohen", "Cohen", or Kohane). Between 2000 and 2003 Thomas coauthored several other papers on the origins of various Jewish and Judaic groups, including the Lemba, otherwise known as the "Black Jews of Southern Africa". In 2002 Thomas coauthored a paper providing Y chromosome evidence for a very high Anglo-Saxon component of patrilineal ancestry in central England. This result proved unpalatable for many archaeologists and led to Thomas developing the "apartheid-like social structure" model to explain the discrepancy between archaeological and genetic estimates of the scale of Anglo-Saxon migration.

Thomas has also worked extensively on the evolution of lactase persistence (see Lactose intolerance), the ability of some humans to produce the enzyme lactase throughout their adult life and thus to consume appreciable quantities of fresh milk without the discomforts of lactose malabsorption. In 2004 he led a study to show that most lactase persistent Africans did not have the same mutation causing it as Europeans. In 2007, in collaboration with Joachim Burger's group in Mainz, Germany, he showed that the genetic variant that causes lactase persistence in most Europeans (-13,910*T) was rare or absent in early farmers from central Europe. In 2009 Thomas led a computer simulation study indicating that lactase persistence started to co-evolve with the culture of dairying in the LBK (Linearbandkeramik) culture.

In 2009 – in collaboration with Prof Stephen Shennan and Dr Adam Powell – Thomas published a study in the journal Science showing that population density and or migratory activity are likely to be a major determinants in the maintenance or loss of culturally inherited skills, and that this seemed to explain a number of curious features of the appearance of behavioural modernity in humans at different times in different parts of the world.

Professor Mark Jobling

Professor Mark A Jobling

Professor of Genetics, The University of Leicester 

Speaker's biography

BA (Hons), DPhil (Oxon); MCSFSFHEA; Honorary Professor, Hubei University of Medicine, China

I was brought up and educated in Durham, and went to the University of Oxford to study Biochemistry in 1981. I then did a DPhil at the Genetics Laboratory there, where I developed an interest in human Y chromosomes. In 1992 I moved to the Department of Genetics in Leicester to study human Y chromosome diversity, under an MRC Training Fellowship, where I have remained until today, including a series of three Wellcome Trust Senior Fellowships.

I have a strong commitment to engaging the public about genetics and have given over 30 public talks in the last five years to groups including family history societies, U3A, and schools. Topics include:

  • Human or medical genetics
  • Human evolution
  • Forensic DNA analysis
  • Genetic genealogy
  • Ancestry testing
  • Genetics in historical studies

I also play tenor saxophone in The Histones, the Department of Genetics house band.

Professor Marsha Morgan

Professor Marsha Morgan

Principal Research Associate, Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, and Emeritus Reader, Faculty of Medical Sciences, UCL

Speaker's biography

As reader in medicine and honorary consultant physician at University College London, Dr Morgan maintains clinical interests in alcoholic liver disease, hepatic encephalopathy and the nutritional aspects of chronic liver disease. She is consultant lead for the trust's alcohol liaison service.

Her research interests include the neuropsychiatric abnormalities observed in patients with chronic liver disease and the genetics of alcohol dependence and alcohol-related liver injury. She also is a distinguished teacher and is director of the intercalated BSc in clinical sciences.

Anna Faaborg, MS

Anna Faaborg, MS

Senior Manager, Research Communities, 23andMe

Speaker's biography

Anna Faaborg is a Director of Program Management at 23andMe, a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company whose mission is to help people access, understand, and benefit from the human genome. Anna joined 23andMe in 2013 to coordinate the execution of studies across numerous conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s disease and lupus. Her responsibilities included overseeing participant recruitment, engagement and data collection to enable researchers to perform analyses at an unprecedented scale. Currently, Anna manages a team of program managers and research associates who are responsible for a broad range of programs including data diversity, academic collaborations, and focused disease research. Prior to 23andMe, Anna spent over four years at Genentech supporting oncology programs.


View the programme

Registration, tea and coffee
Welcome and introduction

Session one

Dr Sarah Rae, President, Medical Genetics Section, Royal Society of Medicine

DTC genetics: Access, understand, benefit

Dr Anna Faaborg, Director, Project Management, 23andMe

Alcohol-related liver disease: Is it all in the genes?

Professor Marsha Morgan, Principal Research Associate and Honorary Consultant Physician, Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, University College London

Panel discussion

Dr Anna Faaborg and Professor Marsha Morgan

Tea and coffee break

Session two

Dr Paquita de Zulueta, President, Open Section, Royal Society of Medicine

Me Medicine vs. We Medicine

Professor Donna Dickenson, Emeritus Professor, Medical Ethics and Humanities, University of London

GP perspective

Dr Andrew Papanikitas, National Institute for Health Research Academic Clinical Lecturer, General Practice, University of Oxford

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: Clinical geneticist perspective

Dr Rachel Horton, Clinical Training Fellow, University of Southampton

Panel discussion

Professor Donna Dickenson, Dr Andrew Papanikitas and Dr Rachel Horton


Session three

Dr Sarah Rae

Ancestral DNA testing: The benefits and the pitfalls

Dr Debbie Kennett, Genetic Genealogist and Honorary Research Associate, Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London 

Genetic astrology

Professor Mark Thomas, Professor, Evolutionary Genetics, University College London

Impact of ancestry testing on different population groups

Dr Matthew Stallard, Department of English, American Studies and Creative Writing, Manchester University

From Genghis Khan to the Golden State Killer: Direct-to-consumer testing for fun, forensics and genetic risk prediction

Professor Mark Jobling, Professor of Genetics, University of Leicester

Tea and coffee break

Session four

Dr Sarah Rae

Debate: The varsity medical ethics debate - Should we fear the rise of direct-to-consumer genetic testing?

Mr Christian Holland, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mr Edward Arbe-Barnes, Medical Student, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mr Euan McGivern, Medical Student, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Mr Ruairidh Forgan, Medical Student, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Closing remarks
Close of meeting


Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole St, Marylebone, London, W1G 0AE, United Kingdom

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