A Tale Of Genetics And Questionable Science

The last thing Molly Bray told me before we ended our call was the sort of quote that pops out of the receiver and floats right onto the page. The no-nonsense Bray, a geneticist at UT Austin who has studied the intersection of genetics and weight management, was on the phone to discuss a Dallas company I’d been talking to called Genetix Health Institute. She offered this:

“Their team is really solid, and I think they’re probably giving solid advice about weight loss,” Bray tells me before we hang up. “Whatever they’re doing in terms of genes—it’s not founded in any science, and they’re just using it because it sounds sexy and they know people dig it.”

That column, from the July D CEO, went online Tuesday. It peaks at recent North Texas investments in the field of genetics, like the five state-of-the-art sequencing machines purchased by the new North Texas Genome Center. But more than anything, the story serves as a case study about the use of genetics within the field of wellness.

Dallas-based Genetix counts weight management among its offerings and says an individual’s genetic framework can help the company craft a personalized plan for an individual, a point on which Bray disagrees.

On its website, Genetix says that it offers a “holistic approach to comprehensive health optimization by utilizing each individual’s genetic framework,” including using “DNA precision to not just promote health, but enhance performance at the cellular level.” Its logo is a helix. Yet it’s me who brings up genetics for the first time, after we’ve talked for a bit and Luterman has started to explain how everyone who comes in for the purposes of weight management—weight optimization, as Genetix calls it—receives a standard blood test. Confused, I ask whether all the patients also receive DNA tests, figuring that is part of the deal.

“Some of them. It’s individualized,” he says. “Do you kind of want to segue into the genetics piece?”

The above-quoted Genetix CEO Zach Luterman—who built his career in real estate before deciding to pivot into something health-related—and I proceeded into a conversation about his model and just what role genetics plays at the company.

Luterman is extremely pleasant, even when I’m pushing him, and looks like the sort of clean-cut 40-something—sideburns sprinkled with salt—that might appear on the “Real Housewives” series. He’s convincing, vaguely infomercial-esque. When I explain that I’m giving him an exhaustive chance to talk about this stuff because there is so much reputable writing out there doubting the ability of genetic testing at this scientific stage to provide us anything actionable, at least with regard to fitness, he frames himself as agreeing with the premise of the question while distancing himself from the direct-to-consumer testing on which the aforementioned writing he assumes is based. “That’s where it takes somebody from a scientific background to be able to use this and really say, ‘This is the way it makes sense for you,’” he says.

Plenty more from Bray and Luterman—and from Genetix’s chief medical advisor—in the story.