For many years I have wanted to take a DNA test (for ancestry and health), but because of the cost (and a little bit of fear) I have put it off. Recently my youngest daughter took the 23andMe DNA test and when I saw her results I decided to buy myself a birthday gift and get it done. Although her main interest is in the ancestry, mine was for the health indicators. In particular I have a grandfather on my father’s side and a great-grandfather on my mother’s side with Alzheimer’s, and wondered if I had the genetic marker. Yes, I know the tests don’t tell the complete story, but since $199 was all I could afford (and that was a stretch) I decided to go ahead and purchase it.
The process itself was relatively easy. I ordered the kit on Amazon and waited about a week until the kit came. I thought I would swab the inside of my mouth, but you actually can’t smoke, drink, or eat for at least 1/2 an hour and then you spit into a test tube…which took longer than I thought it would. You seal the tube and a solution mixes with your saliva and then you send the tube in a prepaid box to the lab. I then waited another couple of weeks and then presto my results came. While I was waiting I read quite a bit online about their site and read and agreed to 4 different release of information waivers. I could have said no to all of them, but since my name would be kept private felt it was OK to release the info for research. I know some people would be nervous about this, but at my age I just wasn’t.
When the results came I was pretty fascinated and spent a couple of hours looking through all the data. I will say I wish there were more tests that they were able to do, but found the ones they did pretty accurate. To give you an idea of the types of things I learned I will share some screenshots here. It is by no means comprehensive, but some of the items that really jumped out at me.
First I looked at my ancestry summary and found (no big surprise) that I am 99.7% European white. This was actually a big disappointment to me, because we had some family lore that a great-grandfather was native American which turns out to not be true. Personally I would have loved to have some more diversity in my genetic makeup, but it is what it is.
Next I looked at my genetic relatives, none of who I recognized, except for my daughter. What was impressive to me was I never told them this was my daughter, they just knew from our genetic testing. I am a little bummed that she is 50.1% Lee though. Not sure how he sneaked that extra .2% in there! The most interesting part of the ancestry was the high amount of Neanderthal variants I have. Being in the 98% of anything is always interesting and this was a surprise. Turns out in Germany at one time there were three distinct groups of humanoids who cross bred. The Neanderthals died out but their DNA did not. Despite the large amount of markers the only thing they know they mean is I am less likely to have back hair. I’m all for that, although it seems weird to me, but they are pretty honest that because they are working off old bones they don’t really know what a lot of these variants mean. I’ve always had a pretty strong fight or flight reflex, so I am going with that being because of my Neanderthal variants.
I didn’t spend a ton of time in this section, and by the way, if you are only interested in ancestry my understanding is the Ancestry.com kit is a better choice. My mom did that one and is pretty happy with it. The medical testing seems to be better with 23andMe and those were the reports I spent the most time on. First I looked at the Genetic Health Risks and I was thrilled that I didn’t have genetic risk factors for any of the items they tested for. In a few cases I have one marker, but that wasn’t enough to have a risk and for many (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in particular) I have no risk factors at all. To be very clear, other factors can contribute to getting these diseases, but it was really nice to see.
After testing negative for all 9 items I looked at the carrier traits section. There were 43 of those and could impact my children so again I was thrilled to see no variants detected in every single category. Although many of these I did not recognize, I think it would be really good to know if you were a carrier…especially as a parent.
Next I looked at a Wellness report which was a little weird. It talked about whether I was likely to have certain traits based on my genes and although it was all true I am not sure how important it is. Each one had a more detailed description. I was particularly happy to see I was under the average weight for my age and ancestry and even within the CDC recommended guidelines. I need to cut myself a break on the mid life chubbiness.
The last thing I looked at was traits and these were definitely hit and miss. My musical pitch to my everlasting regret is not good, although all three of my daughters can sing, so maybe I was a carrier on that one. I have a cleft chin, my big toe is not the longest, and I think mosquitoes find me particularly delicious. Still, most of them were true, although again not sure how important these types of things are in the grand scheme of things.
Overall I am really glad I did it and sent the results to my kids, siblings, and mom. Proceed with caution though because those stories of people finding out things they didn’t want to know are absolutely true. If you want you can actually skip the ancestry and just get the medical test done, if that is where your interest lies. As a curious person I am glad I did it, but then again there were no big surprises (neanderthal variants aside) in the results. Knowledge is power, as they say, and I am happy to have this knowledge and whatever new tests come out in the future. That’s just me though.
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