How are your genes?

Remember back in 2000 when the human genome was completely sequenced for the first time? Well, guess what, you can now get your own genome sequenced in three weeks. That might be a little exaggerated, but there are services that sequence parts of your DNA and test it for known diseases, known risks and other facts that you might want to know about. Or not. All it takes is a little bit of your spit.

Most critics say that you might not want to know about all your risks, particularly not about those that you can’t really manage. You’re at risk of having an aneurysm in your brain, but the preventive surgery is even riskier than just waiting and wishing? Would have been better if you hadn’t known about it in the first place, right?

Well, I can definitely see the critics’ point, but personally, I do want to know about all that. Even about the stuff that I can’t change. Call me a control-freak or whatever. But before you’re going to use such services, ask yourself if you really want to know that much about your biological setup.

Note that you should also take the results with a good grain of salt. The results are based on studies and correlation statistics. Many of the studies might be biased, flawed or just to small to make really decisive projections about your health. The service I was using always cited the study or the paper it was referring to, which might helps you to asses the legitimacy of the claimed results. And you should always remember that correlation that does not imply causation. I can’t repeat that sentence often enough.

I was using the service 23andme and it is quite astonishing what they’ve found out about my genome.

They start by telling you stuff that you already know. Guess that should make you feel comfortable that they’re really using your DNA and not just make wild random guesses. So according to them, I have brown eyes, slightly curly hair and I am able to taste bitter tastes. Yep, three of three points. Thumbs up.

They then tell you stuff that you might had always suspected but didn’t know for sure: I am likely lactose tolerant. Sounds about right, but I still don’t like cheese. And then “Subjects who drank coffee consumed a slightly higher amount of coffee per day, on average.” – right you are again! (although “slightly” is a very humble word to describe the amounts of coffee I drink per day)

Then there is also the bad stuff: “If a smoker, likely to smoke more”. I suppose I’m lucky that I’ve never started to smoke. Let’s get back quickly to the good stuff: strongly decreased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. I guess if I hadn’t forgotten what that was I could be happy about it…They also tell you an awful lot about your blood groups which might be helpful in case you need to get or give a blood transfusion in the future.

There are a couple of surveys that they encourage you to take once you’ve signed up for the service. They use their users’ answers to find new correlations with their users’ genomes, and some of their findings are already incorporated into the service. They found some genes, for instance, that are correlated with the photic sneeze reflex. They claim that I don’t have it, and they are right again.

Although hardcore quantified self services like 23andme are definitely not for everyone, I highly enjoyed using it. So how are your genes?

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2 thoughts on “How are your genes?

    1. Oliver Friedmann Post author

      Thanks, will download that issue to my iPad! I stumbled upon services like 23andme reading related articles in Wired + TechCrunch a while ago. Yeah, although it’s a bit frightening to get the results, I always want to know what’s going on, even if I learn that on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero ;-).

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