A SECOND LOOK AT 23ANDME

A SECOND LOOK AT 23ANDME

Shane BarnhillMonday,22 July 2013

The Snap:

Earlier this year, I signed up for 23andMe’s DNA analysis service after receiving a testing kit as a Christmas present. While it wasn’t an easy decision to join 23andMe — after all, the service warns prospective members that they may find out troubling information about their health and genetic risks — I decided to opt for knowledge over an “ignorance is bliss” mentality. In early April, I opened up 23andMe’s testing kit, provided a saliva sample, and sent it in for analysis. I received my results a couple of months later.

The Download:

First things first: my 23andMe results don’t show any major health risks. I feel it’s important to get that caveat out in the open to start, because it undoubtedly colors my feelings about 23andMe’s service. 23andMe provides hundreds of data points via a set of reports on health risks, drug responsiveness, inherited conditions and other traits. Fortunately, my reports indicate that I’ve been dealt a fairly good card from a genetic standpoint. That’s not to say that I don’t have any risks, because I do. All people are predisposed to certain conditions, and I’m no different. But fortunately, mine are preventable if I make good lifestyle choices and stay proactive in managing my own health care.

So now that I’ve gotten my “good draw” disclaimer out of the way (hello prying eyes of insurance companies!), I’ll cover some takeaways about 23andMe’s service.

First, 23andMe’s reports offer very limited (albeit useful) information. They’re light on details for each condition — roughly what you’d find in the first paragraph of a Wikipedia page. So, in order to really dig in and find out specifics about your results, you’ll end up needing to do a lot of research outside of 23andMe. But there is a LOT information to get you started. In addition to the standard reports covering health risks, drug responsiveness and inherited conditions, 23andMe provides an overview for each member’s ancestry. A high-level Ancestry Composition report “tells you what percent of your DNA comes from each of 22 populations worldwide,” according to the service. There are also reports covering your maternal and paternal lines. And yes, there is even a report estimating your percentage of Neanderthal DNA (and ZOMG you can even buy a tee shirt to “brag” about your percentage).

Another interesting aspect of 23andMe is that, because the service knows your exact DNA profile, it can pinpoint your DNA Relatives who also use the service. You can search for relatives and send requests to connect with them (similar to friend requests on Facebook), although 23andMe warns you ahead of your first relative search, noting that you may end up finding out about close relatives that you didn’t know you had (yikes). I have received several requests from supposed DNA Relatives to connect on 23andMe, but I have’t accepted any yet. Although 23andMe provides predicted relationship ranges for members who either show up in your search results or who send connection requests — such as “likely range of 2nd to 3rd Cousin” — I’m not yet ready to expose my DNA profile to strangers.

23andMe DNA Relatives

23andMe is also mobile. The company offers native apps for both iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. The apps are disappointing in a few ways —  relying on relatively dated UI elements, prompting actions with annoying pop-ups, and providing only a subset of the information that is available via the desktop service — but at least the most important reports are available on the go.  This comes in handy when you want to consult with you doctor about your 23andMe results.

And that’s exactly what I did recently. During my annual physical, I pulled up my 23andMe results and walked through them with my doctor. We discussed a plan to screen for my relative risk areas, and I left the appointment feeling empowered. The consultation reinforced my initial impression of 23andMe — that it’s the equivalent of of the classic scene from the sci-fi movie The Matrix, in which Neo, the story’s protagonist, is offered a chance to take one of two colored pills: “The pills — one blue, one red, and offered by a character named Morpheusrepresent a choice between willfully living in ignorance (via the blue pill) and reaching a new level of awareness about the world (via the red pill), one that may even be painful and unpleasant.”

I’m glad I went for the red one.

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Hat Tips:

Wikipedia23andMe, Image Credit: Flickr



Trackbacks

  1. […] Earlier this year, I signed up for 23andMe’s DNA analysis service after receiving a testing kit as a Christmas present. While it wasn’t an easy decision to join 23andMe — after all, the service warns prospective members that they may find out troubling information about their health and genetic risks — I decided to opt for knowledge over an “ignorance is bliss” mentality. In early April, I opened up 23andMe’s testing kit, provided a saliva sample, and sent it in for analysis. Read more on The Snap Download… […]

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