Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Planning on purchasing 23andMe?

I did not need APG 350 to graduate, or even as a supporting elective towards my anthropology degree. I am not going to lie; the only reason I took this course was to get my genome genotyped. It was an opportunity to explore the chemistry that makes me, me in an organized and structured environment that lured me in. Turns out the course itself was very enjoyable and I learned a lot! (I highly recommend the book Mutants by Leroi) I wish I could say the same for 23andMe however. The awesome part is that I can access my genetic makeup by the click of a finger- but is it worth it?

Maybe my judgment is harsh because I expected to find a revelation of myself, or at least be more in tune with myself by finding out something that I cannot see, yet is the very makeup of me. I was not afraid to unlock either the breast cancer or Alzheimer’s risk values for myself because I knew neither was prevalent in my family history. However, I know my father’s father died young of cardiovascular issues, as did his parents before him. So no shocker when I read my disease risk was elevated significantly for heart related diseases but lower for cancers and Alzheimer’s. Cant take anything too heavily at the disease risk calculator though; I am diagnosed with psoriasis (and, unfortunately I am very aware I have it.) yet 23andMe tells me the locus for that gene associated with psoriasis is at decreased risk. How do I interpret this? Not that 23andMe is all just guessed work with no backbone, but rather that the loci those 23andMe looks at are based on only current research. Scientists don’t know everything yet, so these complex diseases have way more than a few loci affecting them (in class I also learned that there is rarely one gene for one trait…sorry Mendel).

As for the other sectors 23andMe offers; the drug response, ancestry finder and Neanderthal genome calculations are pretty interesting. It is also nice to know if you are a carrier for a trait that could negatively affect your offspring- but again these traits are usually diseases you know your family history has. So basically, if you were an average Joe just looking to find out what the heck makes you up genetically, I would not recommend spending $300 on getting a list of traits, disease risks, and ancestry you might (or might not) have. Just look at how much the price has gone down in the past decade! If, like I mentioned, you know your family has a certain disease that could affect your possible children, maybe you are better off getting your genome area sequenced to get to most definite answer possible. (23andMe is a genotyping mechanism, which means it has certain markers that your genome sticks to if you share the gene- it does not map out your entire genome!) 

I was lost surfing the wonders of the 23andMe web page for a good while when I first got my results back. But after being in a class that really tries to get to the roots of the nitty-gritty details making us human and who we are, I came to the conclusion that your environment tells you just as much who you are than the stuff your parents gave you. So why would you pay $300 just to see what you most likely will already know? My advice is to wait until genetics is more widespread- maybe even to the point of specialized medicine! I do have to add, however, I am glad I had the opportunity to ease my mind of curiosity; maybe you will have to too. 


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