I've gotten my genome analyzed by 23andMe, and would like to share my impressions of the service and the value of what I've learned about my health propensities and ancestral background. I've also used DeCODEme, and while that service has some clear benefits, I think 23andMe gives you the best "bang for your buck." If you're curious about personal genome testing and wonder if it's worth it, I'd say that it would be the first to try.
Cost: 23andMe now charges $99 for their full (health and ancestry) scan, plus a required $9/month one-year subscription, with a total cost of $207, which is considerably cheaper than Navigenics ($999) and DeCODEme ($2000). If you want updates beyond the first year, you will have to continue your subscription, though, currently set at $9 per month.
Time for Analysis: After ordering online, you get your "spit kit" within a few days. You fill a small vial with your own saliva, and then return that via a courier service envelope to their headquarters. From the time I mailed back the "spit tube" back to 23andMe and when I got my results online, it took about 3 weeks.
Technology and Depth: The third-generation chip 23andMe currently uses, the Illumina OmniExpress Plus Genotyping Beadchip (the company used the Illumina HumanHap 550+ BeadChip before then), reads over 1 million SNPs (the original HumanHap 550+ read about half as many) that the company has determined is meaningful for health and genealogical analysis. SNPs, or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, are the base-pair variations that code for genetic difference.
There are about a total of 10 million SNPs in the human genome, but most have not yet been sufficiently analyzed to be meaningful.
23andMe's health analysis currently gives you insight into:
- 86 disease risks, for conditions like esophageal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and Crohn's disease. You get your estimated lifetime risk, the average estimated lifetime risk for comparison, and, if you dig further, estimates of how much a particular disease's risk is influenced by genetics as opposed to environment. For each condition, 23andMe reports their confidence level, based on the number of studies correlating SNPs to disease risks and the relative certainty of those correlations.
- 24 carrier statuses, which can be useful in terms of family planning. You can see if you're a carrier (i.e. not afflicted with the disease, but able to pass the genes for it to your children) for conditions like hemachromatosis, phenylketonuria, sickle-cell anemia or cystic fibrosis.
- 18 drug response indications, or whether you'd need more or less than the average person for certain drugs to be effective for you. I found out I have increased sensitivity to warfarin, so would need a smaller dose than most if I ever needed it. I also found out I'm a slow caffeine metabolizer, which is extremely important to know for your cardiac health.
- 41 traits, or interesting-to-know things about yourself. The genetic test accurately predicted my eye color, hair texture, and even ear wax type (there are wet and dry variants!). Other interesting traits tested include lactose intolerance, male pattern baldness, pain sensitivity and longevity.
23andMe Ancestry (Genealogy)
The other side of 23andMe's offering is a glimpse into your ancestral background, through your maternal line (your mother's mother's mother's mother's....mother) via your mitochondrial DNA, and, if you're male, your paternal line (your father's father's father's....father) via your Y chromosome. This can be interesting and fun, but isn't necessarily as "useful" as the health segment of the service.
First, you get a look at the haplogroup(s) of your maternal and/or paternal lines, where the haplogroups are concentrated worldwide, and a rough idea of where your ancestors migrated from.
Next, the global similarity and ancestry painting let you know where you can find yourself among different world populations, and how much of your genes you can trace back to Asian, Native American, European and African roots. These are strikingly similar to DeCODEme's features.
Finally, a unique and very clever feature is the Relative Finder. 23andMe will "guess" who could be distant...or even close...relatives from among other users on the site. No information is given about each possible relative until you've both consented to share your data with the other. I was able to find someone in Australia that 23andMe guesses is my 5th cousin; he does have the same ethnic background as my mother, so there might be a connection. It might be more interesting to find someone who might be a 2nd or 3rd cousin that you might not know about.
Other features: Both the health and ancestry sides of the service have "lab" features, or cool calcuators and mashups that can give you other more geeky views into your genes. Here are two of my favorites:
Reynolds Risk Score: Based on your age, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and C-reactive protein levels...and genetic components...you'll get the likelihood of having a heart attack over the next ten years. It even tells you how much your risk will change if you reduce your cholesterol by a certain amount, reduce your blood pressure by a certain percentage, etc. Powerful stuff!
Family Inheritance: Advanced: This shows you how much of your genome, by stretches of identical DNA, you share with your "friends" (people you have agreed to share data with). My brother and I shared probably about 50% of my genes with my brother, but only a tiny segment with that 5th cousin 23andMe identified. If you were a total "gene geek", and both of your parents were 23andMe users, you could figure out which genes you got from your father and which from your mother, stretch by stretch.
Risks: Maybe you'll find out something disturbing about your genetic background. (In fact, for certain conditions like Parkinson's, you must opt-in twice to get information, since there's nothing you can do in some cases with that information.) The risk that the data will be used by health insurance companies against you has pretty much been obviated by passage of both the GINA -- or Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act -- passed in 2008, which forbids genetic information from being used to discriminate against you in getting health insurance, and by the recent health care reform legislation (Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act), which prevents insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. If you're really paranoid, though, you could conceivably sign up through an anonymous account and pay with a pre-paid credit card.
Final: I think $207 to learn such rich insights about yourself is a bargain. To know, for example, that I'm a slow caffeine metabolizer, and that reducing caffeine would be a good idea for my cardiac health, is worth the cost of the test alone. Check out my comparison of 23andMe and deCODEme if you're considering both services and want to know the relative merits of each.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on November 28, 2017:
My husband and I just ordered these with the Black Friday special. Surprisingly, Amazon beat the discount that 23andMe had. $99 for health and ancestry DNA. Wow, I've never seen it that low.
We are looking forward to what the results will reveal. I'd previously taken the Ancestry DNA and have over 1000 connections to check out. It has given a boost to my genealogy research.
Ben on April 09, 2012:
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on April 09, 2012:
My apologies, Ben - it's $207 now. They've had a number of price changes over the years.
Ben on April 08, 2012:
Just to be sure, it's $207 not $500 right?
Ideas On Wings on March 05, 2012:
I've found 395 family members through the 23andMe Relative finder...great service and worth the price!!!
kingreed on September 08, 2011:
you are the man... im ordering one in jan...
scauthor1969 from Upstate South Carolina on June 07, 2011:
That is great. I have done the dna tests through ancestry.com. This gives a lot more information than they do. I am curious to see if there any differences in the data you get between the Ancestry tests and others like the National geographic Deep Ancestry project. Great information.
Jennifer Solomon on January 27, 2011:
I did notice the non-discrimination act doesn't apply to life-insurance. So I would keep this one as anonymous as possible and not share it with my MD (unless told him not to write it in the chart).
Kevin Peter from Global Citizen on January 15, 2011:
Thanks for guidance livelonger on 23andme. I was in aconfusion whether to go for it or not but after your well description on it I will surely have it fantastic hub and also informative one
Nichelle on December 20, 2010:
They are having a Christmas special right now and the cost is about $175. ($99 for the test, $14 for shipping and $60 for the website for one year.) I just signed up.
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on November 13, 2010:
Thanks, S. I suppose it depends on how useful or interesting this kind of information is to you. If you're not on warfarin, no need to worry. :) The most useful thing for me was learning that I'm a slow caffeine metabolizer - it's adjusted my coffee-consumption habits.
s.carver from San Francisco on November 12, 2010:
A coworker just did this. It didn't sound appealing the way he described it, but reading this... Maybe? Not that I know what a high sensitivity to warfarin is, or if I want one or if one should freak me out.
Leon Kull on October 26, 2010:
Thank you for your review.
I invite you to participate in cross-vendor relative finder that I am running:
I will merge your 23andme and Decodeme results into one file and will run a comparison against hundreds other samples.
napobo3 at gmail dot com
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 06, 2010:
Imagine that! Hey, at least you have DNA confirmation now. ;)
Norah Casey on October 06, 2010:
Great review! I completed the 23andme process as well. It was a lot of fun, found out my recent ancestry is Irish. Surprise! ;)
Ren Chin on September 22, 2010:
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on September 21, 2010:
Thank you so much, everyone, for your great comments! I agree that knowledge is power, and at $500 for a fairly comprehensive test, it seems well worth it to me.
India Arnold from Northern, California on September 21, 2010:
What a great way to remain proactive about your own health! Prior to reading your works, I had not heard of 23andMe genome analytics. The cost is well worth it and something we all should consider if we have the nerve to see the big picture. But, knowing your enemy is a great way to build an offense rather than waiting until you must defend an actual attack. Good stuff.
LaRoussou on September 20, 2010:
Never heard of this one, and it's cheaper. Really curious now.
aladdin2010 on September 19, 2010:
Wow, i love science ...do you know why??
just for things like this :) great hub.
gr82bme from USA on September 18, 2010:
Wow, i have never heard of this. Very intresting! Good hub. Will rate up
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on September 17, 2010:
Thanks, and I agree. But, ultimately, knowledge is power, and if it means extra attention to health testing and preventive lifestyle change, then it can be just the impetus one might need.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 17, 2010:
This is absolutely fascinating! I'd be kind of scared to see some of the results, but I suppose that this is one of the best approaches one can take if one wishes to be proactive about health.
Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on September 16, 2010:
gredmondson on September 16, 2010:
Livelonger, this is so interesting. Thanks for the informaiton and for the comparison.
nicomp really from Ohio, USA on September 16, 2010:
This is really cool! Thanks for sharing.