Saturday, January 15, 2011

23 and Me

I mentioned in my Christmas post that Bobby gave me a complete DNA mapping from the company 23 and Me- you can check out their website here. The complete package covers both ancestry and health, so I'll know way more than I ever thought I would about my genes and my body. I'm a science nerd on the side, so I find this incredibly fascinating. I sent off my info about a week ago, and the process was pretty simple on my end.
Everything I needed came in this little box.
I had to wait 30 minutes after eating, drinking, or brushing my teeth before spitting in this tube.
Instructions on how to seal off the tube and how to correctly collect the sample.
When you're done spitting...and spitting...and spitting some more, you pop the tube in this specimen bag (I took these pics of the process before actually spitting in the tube, I didn't think you all really needed to be treated to the sight of a tube filled with my frothy spit...I could be wrong though. Better safe than sorry.)
And then the specimen bag goes in this postage paid bubble wrap envelope. It's all so...small, neat, and simple. Then you head on over to their website and create a profile and register your kit with your name and the barcode that was printed on the tube. And that's it! You just sit back and wait while people in a lab far away figure out the deepest secrets of your genetics.

It's hard to believe that a mere decade or so after the initial draft of the human genome was published, and about 8 years after the project was complete, I can, as a random consumer, send off some spit in a tube and in 6-8 weeks at max receive such detailed scientific information. What's also cool is that they compile the information (anonymously, of course) so that they can do research on disease- what causes it, how to prevent it, what demographics of people are more susceptible to certain illnesses, etc. So, on top of it being a fun personal thing for me to do, it's helping aid scientific research. Plus, I can't emphasize how excited I am about he ancestry portion of it. I know my ancestry definitively going back to my Great Granny's grandmother, but after that things get fuzzy. One of my future projects is to do some genealogical work, and I think the ancestry component of the DNA mapping will give me some interesting insight on that.

One last thing though. I do plan on doing a follow up post when I get my results, but some of it may need to be a bit vague. This is for both personal privacy and practical reasons. They do advise you not to share, publicly, any risk factors for disease that you are made aware of. This is because they don't want anyone unfairly discriminated against by health insurance companies. Because a risk factor is just that- you have a risk for a certain disease. It's not a diagnosis, and you may never ever get that certain disease. But, if you trumpet all over the world "whoa, I totally have the gene for breast cancer, scary!", then you may be excluded from getting health insurance on those bounds. Which is weird, because that's basically a "hypothetical pre-pre-existing condition...maybe...someday...or...maybe never at all". Interestingly enough, I discovered that the U.S. passed a law in 2008 called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA for short, to specifically protect people from being discriminated against for genetic markers for disease. You are, in theory, protected from being discriminated against when it comes to plain Jane health insurance (although many women who tested positive for the BRCA gene, indicating a higher than normal breast cancer risk, have reported being denied health insurance). Unfortunately, the law does not cover life/disability/or long term care insurance. I find it a bit strange that they would specifically pass a law to protect people, but only protect them (kinda sorta) in the area of health insurance.

At any rate, I'm excited to get my results and share the experience I had with the company! I'm still in awe of the huge advances in science that have been made in my lifetime and I think it's rad that I can take part in it like this.


  1. Ok... I dig your blog, but I am really shitty about leaving comments.

    I read about when you got this kit for Christmas and it totally fascinated me. I didn't know such a thing/service existed. I went so far as to go to their site, do some reading and was set to buy a kit. Then I remembered I am dirt poor and have a bazillion kids, ok 2 and one on the way, and it would not be the responsible mommy thing to least not now.

    I would actually like to have my whole family done. I think it is awesome and I am excited to hear about your follow up... vague or not :)

  2. Dude! I can;t wait to hear what you learn! I wanna do it too, but I haven't been sure if it's worth the money. Thanks for guinea-pigging this for me :D How fun!

  3. I think that this is such an awesome thing! Now you've got me thinking about getting one because I am just so curious about everything--especially genetics!

  4. The Hunt Family- no worries,same here! I pop in to your blog and read but I don't comment- I'm there in spirit :) I'm excited to get my results so I can write a follow-up! I hope they come before I leave for Egypt but if not I guess I'll have a nice surprise waiting for me when I get back :)

    Arielle- you're welcome, I'm glad to guinea pig it for you. I was hesitant about how worth it it would be as well, until Bobby told me everything he found out about himself via the testing, and then I was sold.

    Meg- my curiosity is definitely what drove me to want to do it. I'm actually about to start listening to an audio book "DNA: The Secret of Life" that my partner, Bobby, raved about. He listened to it around the time he got his results and he said it was not only a great book but also a great way to frame the test results.

  5. I don't know... I think some things are better left unknown :) do you really want to stress for the next years of your life knowing you have a high chance of developing something like Alzheimer's?

    Also not paranoid about government? what if the results are also sent to DNA database, criminal or for employment purposes?

    Let us know the results!


  6. HS- I thought about that too, but I think I'll be pretty good about not freaking out about it. Mostly because I'm kind of a health nut type person, and I've read a lot about how something like 60-80% of cancers and diseases are preventable through healthy diet and exercise. Plus, some of it is avoidable once you find out. I know someone who found out they had hemachromatosis (sp?) basically, your blood makes too much iron. That can be a seriously bad thing- life threatening even- but because they know about it, they know to donate blood four times a year and they're good. I've done research around this whole thing and every doctor says "you can have X gene and not get X, and you can *not* have X gene and still get X", kind of going back to the health/dietary aspects of it. Even if, say, I pop up with the BRCA gene- increasing ovarian/breast cancer by something like 20%- it will just make me be more diligent about breast self exams, and annual exams, and getting mammograms earlier. But I know what you mean, I think some people would definitely rather not know, and that's understandable!

    As to the government, I'm not too concerned. Mostly because I'm only identified via a barcode in their system, my name isn't associated with it. Part of what I was most excited about is that they will be using my DNA, along with thousands of others, to study disease. I'm fine with them using my DNA to help others. There's always the chance they try and frame me, but if they do, you guys have to come to my defense :)