Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, allows the determination of bloodlines and the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases. In agriculture, a form of genetic testing known as progeny testing can be used to evaluate the quality of breeding stock. In population ecology, genetic testing can be used to track genetic strengths and vulnerabilities of species populations.
In humans, genetic testing can be used to determine a child's parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person's ancestry or biological relationship between people. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders.
Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The variety of genetic tests has expanded throughout the years. In the past, the main genetic tests searched for abnormal chromosome numbers and mutations that lead to rare, inherited disorders. Today, tests involve analyzing multiple genes to determine the risk of developing specific diseases or disorders, with the more common diseases consisting of heart disease and cancer. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person's chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.
Because genetic mutations can directly affect the structure of the proteins they code for, testing for specific genetic diseases can also be accomplished by looking at those proteins or their metabolites, or looking at stained or fluorescent chromosomes under a microscope.