Dave got us 23andme kits for Christmas. You’ve probably heard of it before, but in case you haven’t, it’s one of those DNA testing kits where you provide a saliva sample and send it to a lab that analyzes it and tells you where your ancestors came from and if you carry any genetic markers for disease or hereditary conditions.
I’ve long been interested in learning about ancestry and genetics, but had been somewhat hesitant to provide my genetic material in this way. I’ve seen arguments against it saying that by giving a corporation access to your genetic code, insurance companies could potentially buy and use that information to deny coverage for conditions you’re genetically predisposed to, or maybe to harvest your organs for a wealthy person who has a similar genetic makeup (I don’t know, we watch a lot of post-apocalyptic and sci-fi movies in this house).
I thought about the above scenarios but decided that, at the rate my hair falls out, my genetic code could easily have fallen into the wrong hands by now. Plus, I blog about my medical condition on the internet, so it’s not like I’m keeping any secrets about that either. So, I decided to go for it. My urge to know how much Viking blood really flows through my veins outweighs any concern over my medical privacy.
The first step of this whole process, after signing all the virtual paperwork is collecting the saliva sample. Let me tell you about that. As you know, if you or a loved one has EEC, we tend to be rather dry-mouthed folks. I’m pretty much never caught without a water bottle in my hand or a pocketful of hard candies or gum, because left to it’s own devices, my mouth would be as dry as the Sahara in minutes.
The instructions for collecting the saliva sample explicitly state that you have to wait 30 minutes after eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth before you can spit into the vial. Other than while sleeping, I can’t tell you the last time I’ve gone 30 minutes without putting something in my mouth, so that in itself was a challenge. Then came the spitting part. Dave, the healthy-mouthed person that he is, was able to fill his vial in less than 5 minutes, with 3 or 4 spits.
Meanwhile, I swept my tongue around my mouth, from cheek to cheek, silently summoning my saliva glands to produce. My spit was very bubbly – more air than saliva – but I kept at it. I stuck my nose in a bag of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookies to try to stimulate the juices. I sniffed lemon juice, as suggested by the 23andme instruction card. I massaged my cheeks (also suggested by 23andme). I kept looking at the clock as my tube filled up with bubbles. The sample had to be collected within 30 minutes and time was running out! Finally, just as the last minute was slipping away, my saliva reached the fill line on the tube. As a reward, I ate a cookie and had a glass of water.
Dave and I dropped off our samples at the post office on December 28. We anticipated the process taking about 6 weeks, but were pleasantly surprised to get an email about a week later saying that our results would be done by January 16th. Then, on Saturday I checked my email and discovered that mine were already ready! Of course I couldn’t wait to look at them. For some reason, Dave’s results are still not done, but I’m hoping that he’ll get his tomorrow.
Unsurprisingly, my ancestry results show that I am 100% European. I was a little surprised by the French/German part, as culturally, there is absolutely nothing French or German in my recent family history. But I also know that these results just show where your recent-ish ancestors descended from, and I think they are really just comparing DNA with people who live in those regions now.
The other fun factoid that 23andme will tell you is how many Neanderthal variants you have. Apparently I have a lot compared to other 23andme participants. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it’s fun to know.
There is so much more to explore in the results. A lot of it is just fun, silly stuff, like how your genes affect hair color or other physical traits like finger length or freckles. There’s also an DNA relatives part, which shows you which other people out there (who have also used 23andme) are related to you. My results list a second cousin – turns out she is my grandfather’s cousin. There are a couple of other second-to-third cousins, but the majority of the results are 4th cousins or beyond. Still, it is kind of mind-blowing to look at the map and see how many people out there are descended from the same ancestors as I am.
I was curious to see if the report would pick up anything related to my EEC. It did not. But that was another reason I wanted to participate – so that I could provide my DNA and tell them I have EEC, and perhaps eventually others could be helped by it. An optional feature of 23andme tests your health and carrier status, so it tells you if your genes carry variants for particular diseases. Of course 23andme reiterates that their tests aren’t meant to diagnose any genetic conditions, and that you should see a doctor if you think you are really at risk of some thing. I was pleasantly surprised that my genes appear to be pretty good. I carry one variant for celiac disease, but apparently it only *slightly* increases my risk of developing celiac disease. Amazingly I carry none of the variants that could negatively affect my offspring… too bad I don’t plan to produce any offspring. (But duh – EEC is heritable, so there is that.)
I can’t wait to see what Dave’s results are. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia and as far as he knows, his family had always been in Colombia. But South America was colonized by the Spanish for like 400 years, so there would have been mixing of multiple cultures. I’m thinking his map will be a lot more colorful than mine.
I’d love to hear if you’ve done 23andme or Ancestry.com or any other DNA-testing to find out about your genetic building blocks. Did you find out anything you didn’t expect?