23andMe is a personal DNA sequencing service that for $99 and a vial of spit will tell you your ancestry and genetic health risks and keep your sample on file for future uses that I'm sure are not nefarious at all. So sure am I, in fact, that I ponied up for the service early last month and have just received my results.
23andMe is nice enough to not tell you outright if you're horribly predisposed to certain less than stellar conditions, requiring you to click yes three different times to learn your risk of Alzheimer's for instance, which I of course unlocked immediately because why wouldn't I?
40.1% likelihood on that one, which is five and a half times the general populations' risk. But don't worry guys, because I only have a slightly higher than normal risk of gout and I totally already have gout so I figure I've rolled out the ones on my chances of anything super bad. 51.7% chance of deep vein thrombosis? Psh. And we have to balance that stuff against the fact that I've got a significantly lower risk for a whole slew of cancers that have been tied to genetic factors. So that's cool, right? Cancer's probably not how I'm going to die! But if I avoid a heart attack for long enough I'll slip into dementia. Lower risk of OCD, higher risk of bipolar disorder coupled with the a high likelihood that antidepressants will cause sexual dysfunction. It's all give and take.
I was really interested in the ancestry stuff. When I've talked to family about our background I get answers listing the entire spectrum of western and northern Europe. I was hoping for something more specific from the genetic testers. I didn't get it. With a confidency of 70-90% they tell me that 99.7% of my DNA comes from probable European sources, 6.9% British and Irish, 4.0% French and German, 73.1% "Nonspecific Northern European". The other 0.3% could come from anywhere, but lowering the confidence threshold to 50% on a different graph says I may have 0.1% ancestry in Asia or Native American populations. They will tell me that they're fairly certain that 3.1% of my DNA is from Neanderthal ancestry, though, for whatever that's worth.
In the end it's interesting to know that my genetics will tell people that I likely have brown eyes and wet earwax, though they could just ask me. Apparently, my genes should make my hair slightly curlier than average folks of European descent, which I'm not seeing, but maybe average is just really, really straight.
Does it take a certain amount of narcissism to want to know this stuff? I guess that knowing some of these disease risks can help me plan to avoid environmental and lifestyle factors that might contribute to them, but then again I probably won't change. Ultimately, like a lot of things I know, I store them away in my brain just to have them there. Sherlock talks about his attic and the finite nature of memory. I don't know what I've forgotten forever in order to know that I'm a possible carrier for hemochromatosis. I hope it wasn't actually important.