23 and Me

Hi everyone,
When a friend of mine recently sent me a link to www.23andme.com, at first I suspected it was just spam.

I mean, sending a sample of your saliva in for DNA testing and bam, less than two months later you know everything there is to know about your genes? It just seems so new age, so phony.

I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this concept. There’s no question that it would be useful knowing if you’re a carrier for certain diseases. But then again, ignorance may not be such a bad thing.

Companies such as 23AndMe can seriously mess up your life, especially if you’re a hypochondriac. All of a sudden, 53% of your alleles are associated with Type 2 Diabetes, and you start to feel as though you’re becoming a diabetic. And a schizophrenic. And have a higher likelihood to resist anti-depression medications. And suffer from narcolepsy.

The company advertises that knowing these facts will help when you go to the family doctor, since you’ll be more informed about your genetic make-up. I honestly don’t know if it would be better or worse; self-diagnosis is one of the more dangerous things a person can do.

The ancestry portion of 23AndMe is sort of interesting, but at the same time I don’t know how useful it is. Congratulations, you’ve successfully predicted that my roots stem from Europe… along with a good portion of the world today.

I’ve also heard that this becomes a social networking tool, to find long-lost cousins 20 times removed-in-law. DNA as social networking? Now that’s something I’ve got to wrap my head around.

And don’t get me started about the personality traits. Here is a full list of the diseases and conditions 23AndMe analyzes. Do we need this tool to teach us our eye colour? Can we not look in the mirror? Can a drop of my saliva tell scientists about my reading ability, measure my intelligence? All of these traits that 23AndMe supposedly explains make the company more enticing to the client, however I just don’t buy it. It’s a tactic to get the average person interested in the product, with little to no actual medical value.

Perhaps I sound like a skeptic, or old-fashioned, and maybe I am, but I’ll never know until I get my results back. That’s right, folks, I’ve just ordered my kit in the mail. I will most definitely keep you posted, it will be interesting to see if my opinion changes with the results.

Have any of you used an at-home genetics kit such as 23andme? Am I being some ridiculous closed-minded pessimist? Am I being rational?

I guess time will tell…

-Michelle

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4 Responses to “23 and Me”

  1. Justin

    I’ve done it. It’s pretty neat and Jennifer Gardy recommended it to my MICB 405 class. What do you have to lose?

  2. Vinci Au

    I have a friend that did the 23andMe test.

    I agree that it can be a scary prospect. However it’s still a personal choice whether or not you get tested for it. Some people would like to know so they can make appropriate lifestyle choices to hopefully deter or delay the onset of an illness they’re predispositioned to.

    23andMe also uses this pool of genetic information to conduct research and I think that’s pretty cool (https://www.23andme.com/about/factoids/).

  3. Joanne Fox

    I’ve got my kit… just waiting for my results!

    @Justin, are you confusing me with Jennifer Gardy – or did she talk about 23andme too?! See you in class!

  4. Keegan Macintosh

    I know it’s an opinion piece, but I’m a little disappointed in the tone of this post. “New age and phoney” would be spending your $200 on a psychic reading. Personal genomics may still be an emerging science, but at least it’s science.

    Learning your APOE status alone is probably worth the money – not so that you can spend the next 40 years worrying about Alzheimer’s if you find out you have a copy or two of APOE4, but rather so you can do something to mitigate your risk, like cutting meat out of your diet, and alcohol. I can tell you from experience that guilt-free sobriety isn’t so bad as it sounds… 🙂

    Sure 23andme told me some things I already knew, like the fact that I (probably) have blue eyes, as well as some things I would have guessed, like my elevated risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and prostate cancer. But it also informed me that I’m sensitive to warfarin, a common blood thinner. An ordinary dose for someone else could put me at risk of uncontrolled bleeding. I’m rather happy to know that, as I expect are people who learn that they are one of the 30% of people whose livers could fail if they are given Flourouracil, an otherwise very effective chemotherapy drug. Maybe you’ll never need it – but then again, maybe you will.

    On average, we’re about 99.5% the same, but that 0.5% is still a lot of code – code that *means* stuff. Each of us is a slightly different complex biochemical reaction – the more detailed our understanding of that reaction is, the better the choices we can make about what we add to it, whether drugs when we’re sick, or just food.

    In any case, I’m glad you signed up, Michelle. Hopefully what I’ve said (or maybe your results) will change your perspective on the matter.

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