Chinese parents are reportedly seeking the “talent testing” services of local genetic companies in an apparent bid to identify which fields their children can excel at.
Clinics from genetic firms, which claim to find children’s hidden talents in their DNA, have recently been sprouting up in cities such as Shenzhen.
Parents who believe genetic tests can give their children an edge partake in such services despite little to no actual scientific basis to them.
According to a report by the MIT Technology Review, a clinic at the China Bioengineering Technology Group in Shenzhen offered such “talent testing” services. The facility, described as “half medical clinic and half high-end spa,” also provides other medical procedures such as plastic surgery and even traditional Chinese medicine treatments.
The clinic reportedly has a thick book listing over 200 indicators that a child is tested for. Among those listed include potential hereditary conditions; musical, mathematical, and reading abilities; physical talents and attributes; like shyness, introversion, extroversion, and memory.
According to an agent working in the facility, they receive around one to two hundred parents testing their children per week.
The most popular package, which costs $4,500, provides the parents with a complete genome sequence report of their child.
Meanwhile, a full battery of tests for hereditary conditions and talents cost around $2,500. Parents can also opt to get the simplest test, which looks at just 10 talent indicators, for just $160.
Genetic samples are collected from the inside of the child’s cheek using a swab. The samples are then sent to the company’s lab in Hong Kong for sequencing before they are returned to Shenzhen for analysis.
Observers claim some educators linked to the industry have been generating interest in DNA testing for children in Shenzhen.
Xuefa Middle School principal Chen Tiecheng, one of the tests’ biggest proponents, has been pushing “happiness education,” which is based on identifying and then developing the innate talents of each child.
While admitting that “the science might not be totally correct,” Chen espoused ideas that rely heavily on genetic talent tests.
“In the past, you might dig a well and not find water, but now we have remote satellite technology that can tell you where the water is,” Chen was quoted as saying. “Genetic testing is a little like this—a way to more accurately find talent.”
WeGene co-founder and CEO Chen Gang stated that assessing a kid’s talent on the basis of DNA has very little basis.
“Currently most of these kinds of genetic talent tests lack enough scientific evidence,” Gang said. “We still cannot explain the complicated relationship between the genome and a lot of traits—for example, like IQ, music, and sports abilities.”
Gang has also expressed concern over how the growing interest in talent testing could hurt the reputation of the genetics industry in general.
“These services do not represent the mainstream of China’s testing market,” he noted.
As the report pointed out, the phenomenon is not limited to China as there are also companies in the United States, such as Orig3n, that offer similar “child development” tests for genes which are supposedly linked to language, math, and perfect pitch.