What Happened to Orig3n?
Updated on March 18, 2024
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DNA Testing
What Happened to Orig3n?

Many great DNA testing companies provide information that helps you trace your genetic heritage and determine if you have any genetic health risks.

But those familiar with the various testing options may remember one genetic testing company and their genetic tests that were embroiled in some controversy: Orig3n DNA.

What Happened to Orig3n? 11

Did Orig3n Fail to Identify Dog DNA and Tap Water?

In 2018, dog DNA was sent to Orig3n for testing by Katie Stoll, a geneticist and executive director of the Genetic Support Foundation, who seemed skeptical of the testing company, especially about its children’s DNA tests.

Stoll swabbed her dog’s cheek and sent it to the company for testing.1 She was shocked to find out that the company provided her with actual results and a full genetic profile and failed to recognize that the DNA was nonhuman.

In an effort to let the company redeem itself, she sent in another sample using their genetic testing kits. This time, her sample was just tap water. She was disappointed to receive another full report, even if the sample was not even a DNA swab at all, much less a human one.

Other DNA testing companies have been able to detect if the test kits that come back do not contain human samples and often render the results inconclusive. Orig3n, however, did not.

This opened the company up to a lot of criticism—but it wasn’t the last of their public blunders. This investigation was only one of several that plagued the company.

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Former Orig3n Employees Speak Out About Tampering Data

In 2019, whistleblowers who worked for Orig3n stated publicly that the company knew its testing process had problems but actively covered it up. They did this by tampering with data to hide the system’s flaws.

Additionally, law enforcement launched separate investigations into quality control problems at Orig3n DNA. According to the investigation, DNA specimens were contaminated, rendering the results inaccurate.

The former employees reported that Orig3n consistently cut corners in order to expedite processes or just failed to meet scientific testing standards.4

Not only did the employees admit that the company was fabricating results, they were also:

  • Mixing up DNA samples
  • Had multiple samples labeled the same (with the same barcode)
  • Consistently mishandled samples that led to contamination
  • Not carrying out testing to sound scientific standards

Orig3n and COVID-19 Tests

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Source: Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash.com

Later, in 2020, Orig3n was tasked by the state of Massachusetts to conduct COVID-19 testing as part of emergency protocol. They were given authorization to perform tests, given that the coronavirus situation had gotten worse and they needed more testing centers.

Despite the decision being met with hesitation by those already criticizing Orig3n for its lack of scientific standards, the DNA testing company was allowed to begin testing on the public.

However, their COVID-19 testing license was suspended by the Massachusetts Department of Health later on as investigations revealed anomalies in their results.

According to the DOH, the lab had produced “an unusually high positivity rate of tests.” It turns out that they sent out hundreds of false positives and put patients who were mistakenly considered positive for COVID-19 in danger.2

Their certificate to operate a clinical lab was suspended shortly after by federal agencies.3

How Did People Find Out About the Orig3n Controversies?

Orig3n DNA’s controversies came out on several news outlets and garnered negative attention.

Public outrage steadily escalated after the dog DNA incident and only continued as the whistleblowers came forward. When they publicly endangered several people with the COVID-19 false positive results, they were even more heavily criticized.

This is especially because many of the false positives were found in senior homes—so people were angry that many nursing home residents who didn’t have COVID-19 but tested positive were put in danger by being entered into COVID-19 wards, where they could actually get sick.

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Orig3n was then pretty widely criticized for not just cutting corners and failing to uphold a lot of scientific integrity but also for publicly endangering many (especially those in nursing homes) who underwent their COVID-19 testing procedure.

Many thought that it was a shame that Orig3n had gotten so caught up in controversy, as they were heavily marketing their tests everywhere as one that was easy (instead of blood samples, they used cheek swabs for most tests) and could provide you with a wealth of information about yourself or your children.

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Is Orig3n Still Operating Now?

It’s unclear if Orig3n is still in business, as there’s no accessible website or official list of products.

However, it’s important to note that they have not posted on their social media channels since their last controversy in 2020, and their products are only available here and there on Amazon, Walmart, and other third-party sellers.

Orig3n’s tests on these third-party sales websites are also pretty poorly reviewed overall, with some bad reviews even pre-dating any of the controversies. Consumers are complaining that the results were pretty generic and meaningless or already told them what they already knew.

Many of the more recent reviews from people who bought the tests from Amazon are also complaining that the site and app are now defunct, making registering their data and accessing their results impossible.

Some reviews from 2021 onward have said, however, that they did get to send back their test kits and get in touch with customer service, only to be told that results still haven’t been processed, even after several months.

So it’s possible that there’s still some semblance of a skeleton team at Orig3n, but they’re definitely not working full force or making themselves visible.

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What Kind of DNA Testing Did Orig3n Provide?

One of the benefits Orig3n consistently marketed was the variety of different tests offered by the company. They kept talking about how they had 19 tests that could tell you about different lifestyle-related traits and genetic predispositions.

Orig3n’s tests provided information about:

  • Fitness
  • Nutrition
  • Behavior
  • Beauty
  • Child development

These tests were marketed as offering a wide range of information that you could use to improve your health and make better lifestyle decisions.

Orig3n also offered mini-tests that addressed a “more focused” set of gene variants.

These tests offered information about specific issues, such as:

  • Vitamins
  • Metabolism
  • Caffeine tolerance
  • Joint care
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Recovery and renewal
  • Skin health
  • Hunger and weight
  • Hair
  • Alcohol tolerance

It’s easy to see how a look into your body’s response to various things on a molecular level would be helpful. For example, if you learn you are especially sensitive to caffeine, or you have out-of-the-norm alcohol intolerance, you can adjust your behavior to better suit your health.

Orig3n also prided itself on the fact that you didn’t have to do the test 19 times, it was a single genotyping test, and the results were just sold separately. However, despite its claims of comprehensive testing and cutting-edge research, Orig3n let a lot of people down.

What You Got with Your Report

Depending on the kind of test you chose, you would get different results per report.

You first had to decide what kind of test you wanted to take. Depending on what you wanted to find out more about, you could zero in from there. Most people based their choices on their suspected health risks or if they wanted to learn more about their bodies to optimize workouts and nutrition.

For example, if you have a family history of alcoholism, you might be interested in learning about your alcohol tolerance. If you are overweight, you might want to know more about your metabolism.

This variety and wealth of information is what made Orig3n so appealing to such a wide audience before they were caught cutting corners.

Some of the most popular test options from Orig3n’s included:

Fitness and Nutrition

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Source: Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.com

Those interested in better weight management and their own athletic prowess used Orig3n’s Fitness DNA Test and the Nutrition Test. Each of these provided personalized information that helped you better understand your metabolism and how efficient your body is at building and repairing muscle.

The Fitness and Nutrition results were meant to help you learn about how long it takes you to recover, what can help you feel fuller after eating, and how sensitive your body is to sugar.

The Nutrition Tests provided information to help you better design your diet and exercise routine. You’d learn about your body’s ability to break down food, what vitamins you might need, and whether or not you have food sensitivities.

However, when Orig3n was suffering bad PR from its scandals, these tests were met with a lot of skepticism.

Beauty

Orig3n’s Beauty DNA tests offered information about how your skin ages, its health, and its elasticity. There was also a plethora of information regarding your skin’s tolerance for sun exposure and if there’s anything you need to do to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer in the future.

Again, a lot of consumers widely contested a lot of this, and later on, these tests were doubted by potential customers when the controversies came out.

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Behavior

Take note that the study of behavioral genetics is new, and many people (especially in the scientific community) consider it controversial.

This, and the next test we discuss, were some of the biggest red flag tests that geneticist Katie Stoll and other scientists were skeptical of, and that led to them sending in non-human samples in the first place.

Despite the infancy of behavioral genetics, it can still tell us a little bit about our personalities—or at least what potentially influences and shapes them. This type of test was designed to help you learn more about your moods, your reactions, and your approach to living via your genetic makeup.

Other DNA testing companies are able to show how certain genes can contribute to certain traits, and this is what this test was meant to do as well.

Child Development

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This type of DNA test was meant to offer information regarding your child.

The test was meant to look at a variety of factors, including math ability, musical inclinations, language learning, sleep patterns, fitness, and nutrition. If you wanted an in-depth look into your child’s health and genetics, this test was supposed to offer a jumping-off point.

Genetics experts recommend taking test results such as these with a grain of salt, but the selling point for this was that knowing more about the role genetics play in your child’s development could help you better understand your child.

This test also attempted to predict language learning capabilities, which was heavily contested by critics and became a big part of the investigation into Orig3n.

Orig3n DNA also offered “fun” DNA tests that provided insights into interesting traits all of us might or might not have. For instance, the Superhero DNA Test offered information about muscle mass, endurance, and language ability.

Was Orig3n DNA Accurate?

Sadly, it’s difficult to tell if Orig3n was accurate with any of its tests, given its history of controversy. The fact that they could not distinguish between a human DNA sample and a dog’s (or even just plain tap water) is untrustworthy at best.

Not only that but the fact that more than a dozen of their ex-employees came forward to report falsified results, specimen contamination, and even shoddy processes makes them even more questionable.

Lastly, their dangerous public health blunder with the numerous false positives when it came to COVID-19 tests made consumers wary of their business altogether.

How Did the Orig3n DNA Test Work?

Orig3n works just like other direct-to-consumer at-home DNA testing. You get the kit and follow the instructions:

  1. Collect your sample – Orig3n required cheek swabs, making it easy and non-invasive
  2. Seal the sample – You had to seal your sample with the equipment provided in the kit to make sure it was secure
  3. Mail it back to the company – Sending it back to Orig3n was as easy as dropping it off at the closest mailbox or shipping company
  4. Wait for results – Results would arrive within business days back then and you could access them on the app or website (however, this is no longer the case—and many are complaining that they have been waiting months for any kind of response)
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Should You Be Concerned About Privacy?

Again, as with all DNA tests, you should be concerned with privacy.

Most DNA companies provide information about their privacy policies, but it’s important to carefully consider how comfortable you are with submitting your DNA sample to a company.

Many of these companies sell your information to third parties or at least have the legal authority to do so, as long as you don’t deny them this ability—so make sure you read the fine print.

Before taking a DNA test, make sure you understand the company’s policy on the storage and handling of your DNA. 

Find out if you can deny a DNA company the ability to share or sell your information and delete your test results as soon as you’ve downloaded them.

With Orig3n specifically, privacy is probably the least of your worries, considering the other public mistakes they’ve made. So if you’re opting for another at-home test, make sure you do your due diligence and look into the company.

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Should You Try a DNA Test?

It’s important to take the results of a DNA test with a grain of salt.

Based on the information that’s come to light about Orig3n’s practices, it’s better to work with a reputable company with a solid reputation.

However, even then, it’s important not to take the results as gospel.

The best thing you can do is discuss whatever you learn from a DNA test with your doctor and/or a geneticist. These tests provide interesting and useful information, but only when interpreted correctly.

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Updated on March 18, 2024
Dr. Dhingra
Dr. Harshi Dhingra
Medical Reviewer
Dr Harshi Dhingra is a licensed medical doctor with a specialization in Pathology. Dr. Dhingra has of over a decade in diagnostic, clinical, research and teaching work, including managing all sections of Pathology laboratory including histopathology, cytology, hematology and clinical Pathology.
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Content Contributor
Angela is a full-time digital content manager and editor for Know Your DNA. She also contributes freelance articles to several local and international websites when she has the time. She's always been a voracious believer in finding the truth and ensuring the science is sound.