LET INGA TELL YOU:
I didn’t jump on the ancestry band wagon right away since both my mother’s and father’s families kept good genealogical records back many generations — even centuries. But I was definitely curious about the carrier status, health predispositions, wellness, and traits data that was now available.
My sister, a year younger, decided against it. “I don’t want any bad news,” she maintained.
“Not to put too fine a point on it,” I replied, “but we’re SEVENTY. How much bad news could there be? We’ve already aged-out of Early Onset Dementia!” But she is unmoved.
23andme is careful to inform you that with each of the afflictions they test your genes for, they are only testing for specific variants and just because you don’t test positive for those variants doesn’t mean you’re home free on this disease.
They emphasize that there are all manner of life style and “other factors” that could contribute to your succumbing to these maladies besides your DNA. Still, I confess it’s comforting to know that if I crump from one of these, it’s my own fault and not my genes’.
I was especially happy to discover that the variants they tested for me did not detect the variants for BRCA1/BCRA2 (breast cancer), Late-Onset Alzheimers and Parkinsons.
I did, however, test positive for one of the two variants they tested for Age-related Macular Degeneration. Apparently, it’s pretty common in people of European descent.
I was genuinely pleased that “variant not detected” came up on all 44 Carrier traits they tested, even though I had no idea what most of them are. I am not, for example, a carrier of the gene for Hereditary Fructose Intolerance, MCAD Deficiency, Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata Type 1, Usher Syndrome Type 1F, or Dihydrolipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency. None of them sound like a good time.
The actually fun parts of 23andme were in the Traits sections that predicted whether you were or less likely to have certain qualities related to appearance, weight, food preferences, sleep patterns and general wellness.
23andme correctly predicted that I was “likely to have blue or green eyes” (blue; I’m Northern European); “more likely than average to be afraid of heights” (utterly deathly afraid of heights over three feet); “likely lighter skin” (Northern European thing again); “less likely to be able to match a musical pitch” (and then some: I’m totally tone deaf), “likely lactose tolerant” (yup); “likely no unibrow” (correct, but seriously?); “less likely to get dandruff” (true, but see “seriously?” above); “likely no cleft chin or dimples; and “likely to experience hair photobleaching” (i.e. hair lightens after long exposure to the sun). My hair always lightened multiple shades if I sat out in the sun, which I don’t any more after having malignant melanoma, an affliction, by the way, that is not tested. Personally, I think it had everything to do with all those youth baseball and soccer tournaments in the blazing sun rather than genetics anyway.
But 23andme totally struck out on other traits: “likely a lot of freckles” (nary a one); “less likely to have lots of baby hair at birth” (born with a full head of hair); “less likely to have thick hair” (I STILL get my hair thinned every three weeks or it’s like a mattress on my head); “slightly higher odds of disliking cilantro” (I adore cilantro and consider it one of the basic four food groups); “likely to have a muscle composition common in elite power athletes” (I’m still laughing); and “likely to consume more caffeine” (definitely not so since I inherited my mother’s severe sensitivity to caffeine).
23andme predicted I preferred “sweet over salty,” which may technically be true, but I’ve never met a potato chip I didn’t like.
Where they really struck out was in the “Sleep and Wakeup Time” category. According to them “based on your genetics, you’re likely to move about an average amount during sleep” which they note would be about 12 times an hour. As a sufferer of Restless Leg Syndrome (which sounds so innocuous but is utterly brutal), I move about 12 times a minute. Interestingly, this can be a hereditary ailment that I’m sincerely hoping for my younger son’s sake is not. (My older son, noting the afflictions that have plagued his aging parents, is increasingly grateful he’s adopted.)
Where 23andme struck out the most, however (besides the elite athletes thing), is the prediction that I am “likely to wake up around 6:42 a.m.” As far as I’m concerned, anything before 10 a.m. is still the night before. It predicted that I am a morning person, which I have never ever ever been in my whole life.
Still, it’s been a fun exercise and there are always new reports coming out. So far no really bad news and if some comes out, how hard is it to hit “Delete”?
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org