Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why 23andMe is my favorite genetic-testing program

It's been years and years since I sent away my cheek swab and got my 23andMe genetic profile.

Back then - maybe 10 years ago - not may people had registered their family trees at 23&Me, so my first discoveries were not unknown cousins but 'medical' info and other genetic traits.

Here are some surprises that followed:

1. I could participate in research. 23andMe asked me if I'd be willing to answer some questions, and for these many years I've been stopping by their website and responding to their quizzes. Most take 5 minutes or so.

23andMe correlates my answers with my genes and combines my responses with those of others doing the same quiz. For example, one quiz centered on taste preferences. Did I like fresh coriander? No. That helped them home in on which gene causes some people to find coriander soapy.

I don't know the number of these little research projects I've participated in but probably 100-200.

2. I could look up genes they didn't report on. 23andMe keeps an archive of our genome and we have access to it. Here's how that's helpful:

One of my sons is a bit shorter than average yet jumps really high in an important way: he can dunk the basketball. So he was curious if he had a special gene for fast-twitch muscles. He searched Google to find the actual gene responsible, then asked me to look it up in 23&Me to see if I had it. I was amazed that I could do that! Pick a gene and they will let you know which variation you have, what you have inherited.

3. More recently I had a serious issue to research: docs thought my sister had Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is hereditary (in part) so it was scary to hear we might have it in our family. But I was surprised because I remember well getting my 23andMe report and having to give special permission to see if I had a gene for Alzheimer's (also special permission to learn about a susceptibility to Parkinson's), and I did not have the Alzheimer's gene (that they knew about back then).

So I looked up the gene in my personal archives that 23andMe keeps for me, and found I had much lower than average chance of getting Alzheimer's. And that could easily apply to my sister, too. At least she couldn't have a large tendency to it. So with this information the doc reconsidered and discovered a thyroid problem.

4. And while I was looking at my archive, I found a few things I had forgotten: that I had low risk for cardiovascular disease, also for A-fib. Isn't that nice to know? And I didn't have the main breast cancer gene, either.

5. The results that mean the most to me are included in a separate report from these health-oriented ones. It is the report on my mitochondrial (or Mothers') line. Not all companies report on this, and most folks don't miss it until they start reading about it. For now, let's just say it is the most important result I received from 23andMe.

6. And then there are the cousins. I have discovered many, and some of those were not very distant. But this too is another story.

Conclusion: 23andMe is my favorite. it has given me insights, knowledge, hope, and relatives. And through the mitochondrial reporting, keys to my deep history, food preferences and allergies, and clues about my metabolism.

A final thought: 23andMe keeps our genetic archives so when new discoveries are made, we can apply them to ourselves immediately, without further testing. That's a real bonus and who knows what we'll learn because of it over time.

I've told so many people about 23andMe that I got a referral link. Here it is. If you're interested in more information, please use it:

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