My 23andMe

Ever the science geek, last year I ordered a DNA collection kit from 23andMe.

23andMe review + results

After having a chat with someone who had done one of these, and hearing about the information you can get from them, I decided to treat myself to a kit. They currently vary in price (running from £125-£140 depending on where you buy it) and to some that might seem like a massive outlay, but this is an actual breakdown of your DNA, so to me it's worth the outlay. Tests like this would not have been on the market at all a few decades ago, and back in 2007 in the US this test cost $10,000. Only £140 for genotyping? Shut up and take my money. 

My primary interest was my ancestry, and seeing where my DNA has been over the years geographically, but the added extras of health information (in case I fancy a bit of biohacking) and the ability to search for other people with DNA matches was a bonus.

In brief; a kit arrives in the post, you spit into a tube, seal it up and send it back in the box. Then you wait patiently a good 8 weeks for your results ready email to drop into your inbox.

The Ancestry wasn't that thrilling for me as I expected, it was almost as I had predicted:

23andMe review + ancestry

I am so very British and Irish. With a drop of Scandi, French and German. With hints of Italian. And North African (?!). I think I'd show more Scandi if they could have some male family DNA to play with (so I might be buying my brother one of these kits for Christmas), given my ancestors are Danish Vikings, my original surname is of Danish origin and I am very, very blonde.

23andMe review + health data

Oh, and I'm a smidge more Neanderthal than average too. Explains my massive brow bone that my mum keeps kindly pointing out to me.

There's also the maternal haplogroup information, which will tell you which major branch of the mitochondrial phylogenetic tree you fell off. Mine's the same one as Marie Antoinette and Prince Philip. All well and good (and I could have a Danny Dyer moment about this) but once you've been to a lecture on genetics by Adam Rutherford (thank you Brian & Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason), that gets slapped out of you. Doesn't mean I won't be attempting to perfect my Claire Foy in The Crown impressions, though.

What I really enjoy in this section is the ability to search for people with the same DNA as you. There's so many! I currently have 706 matches for various segments of my DNA, which is lovely as it makes me realise that we're pretty special and unique to ourselves, but share so much with other people out there in the world. How wonderful. You can reach out and ask these people to share their details with you (health, not personal), see their maternal haplogroup and see how connected you are (so far I've found no one higher than a 3rd cousin, but you never know, we're a big family and a broach church).

Anyway, onto the health information, this is what I really enjoyed looking through and reading about. It's broken into a few different sections, as outlined below.

Genetic Risk Factors with contains locked results for Alzheimer's, Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, Parkinson's and open results for other things like cardiomyopathy and thrombophilia. The locked results you just have to re-enter your password to unlock. I'm of the mind that if the tests are done, the information is there and I've paid for it, I'd want to know it, so I unlocked mine immediately. There was nothing controversial on mine, but if you have a good grasp of your family medical history, you'd be aware of any red flags in advance.

Drug Response to popular medications, like Warfarin, Hepatitis C meds, Statins and so forth. I have a fast response to PPI drugs (as I have a bit of a fast metabolism) which means I'd need to have a higher dose (or a different drug) to have an effect. It's also an idea for me to stay away from Statins as I'm at risk of myopathy from them (remind me to keep an eye on my cholesterol!).

Inherited Conditions. These will simply display in two ways: Variant Absent or Variant Present. These conditions are recessive, meaning that they only occur when you have two variants for that condition, one inherited from each parent. One variant makes me a 'carrier', which has no effect on me directly, but if I was considering procreating, the father of my children would need some tests too. The big red flag for me was for a type Muscular Dystrophy, which I am a carrier for, and therefore could have repercussions if I was baby inclined.

Traits. These are fun bits. It can have a go at predicting basic things like hair and eye colour (both correct), lactose intolerance, norovirus resistance, alcohol flush response, if you're likely to be an addicted smoker. The bio-hacks kick in here too, as the results can look at muscle performance (so if you're like me you're a better sprinter than distance runner), how you metabolise caffeine (fast), if you're like to be obese (nope), when you're likely to hit menopause (early), response to diet (fats have little effect on my BMI) and how you respond to exercise (no change in my glucose tolerance, increased insulin sensitivity and that low-impact cardio is the best way for me to lose weight). It's not concrete and a lot of it is research-based but they're quite interesting little bio-hacks. 

The information is constantly updated with new discoveries and scientific information, more people taking tests and sharing their DNA, so even after digesting your results it's worth having a log back in to your profile in a month or so to see what's been happening and who has got in touch.

Is it worth the money? That depends on what you want. As a bit of a nerd who likes science and stats, I get a lot from this (you have access to your raw data, which you can run through various websites to get some further information and explanations about gene mutations). It's also a mild pyramid scheme as a few of my friends have followed suit and done these tests (so we nerd out over the data together) and as I said earlier, because I'm curious about my paternal line I now need to buy a kit for my brother to have a go as well.

The big thing to me about such tests being available to the masses is where this kind of thing could go next; besides biohacking for health and fitness purposes, such easy DNA collection could make for easier diagnosis of conditions, advanced health warnings from home (to avoid having to queue at the doctors to see if your sickness is viral or bacterial and so on). In this form it's far from perfect but it makes me a little excited about what the future might hold for this type of testing and if it's this easy now, what's next on the commercial market?

Basically, if this kind of thing interests you and you like to science for fun, it's worth the money.

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  1. Thanks for posting this. I've been on the fence on doing it for about a year now, and I think you've convinced me to have a go!

    1. Great news! I hope you find your results as interesting as I did mine.