Yesterday evening I received the notification that my 23andMe personal DNA test results are available. Since this service is not yet well-known in Europe and I am pretty excited about it, I decided to share my experience in this blog entry.
The general facts about the California-based personal genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe and the service it provides are best described in the english Wikipedia entry. Just a few things to remark: Almost every reference to the company mentions that it is co-founded by the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and Google is one of the investors. And, a few months ago, the pricing changed to a subscription model, costing 199 USD for the initial DNA analysis and 5 USD per month for receiving updates based on the latest discoveries in DNA research that are relevant for you.
I had heard about this company from various sources (e.g. the book “Experimental Man” by David E. Duncan), and my general consciousness about health combined with growing out of my twenties this year combined with the change in pricing made me try this about a month ago. It all went very quickly: Only two days after ordering the standard package on the company’s web site (for Germany, another 62.95 USD for express shipping was added), a DHL Express parcel arrived from California containing a kit to provide a saliva sample (see pictures). Giving the sample was no problem since it is very well described, however getting the sample shipped was not that easy: You have to fill in multiple copies of forms for international shipping and add a statement by 23andMe assuring that sending this kind of human specimen is allowed. Then I had to drive to the nearest DHL Express station at the airport, as the normal post office did not accept this kind of shipment. With another impressive demonstration of 21st century “express” logistics, the sample arrived two business days later in California. Shortly after that, I received a status mail that my sample had arrived at the lab and I should give analysis a timeframe of 6 to 8 weeks. While you are waiting, you can already make yourself familiar with the tools and information provided on the 23andMe web site, containing e.g. sample genetic data of “the Mendels” and a 23andWe community project where you can participate in surveys about your health, characteristics, hair loss etc. to help identifying statistical correlations of diseases or certain characteristics with genes. There is also a general discussion community and a lot of informational resources around DNA research.
The timeframe for the analysis was actually quite a bit shorter than announced, it only took about a month until I got another e-mail telling me “Your Genetic Profile is Ready at 23andMe!”. With the analysis result you have access to the full content of the web site, including your DNA analysis related to “My Health” (disease risk, carrier status, drug response, traits) and “My Ancestry” (maternal and paternal lines, relative finder, global similarity). The most interesting part is probably the disease risk, telling you for what diseases you have an elevated, normal, or reduced risk compared to the average based on your genes (according to current research). Of course you should not take that for granted, but it might give you some hints in which areas to do some examination or preventive medical care. The information is provided in a way that it can be understood without deeper biological or medical knowledge, but if you want to dig deeper there are tons of references to background information and research articles.
Overall, the experience with this service was very good and I can recommend it to anyone who cares about health and/or ancestry and does not mind having his DNA analyzed and the data stored by a company in the US. The affordable pricing model and the great communitiy web site combined with regular updates based on new research findings make it an attractive way to understand your ancestry, genetic risk for diseases or dangerous gene variants that you may carry. I will not disclose my personal results here, but a few things make absolutely sense given the medical history in my family and overall I am quite happy with it.