Genetically Speaking

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Some time ago, my wife and I signed up to participate in a 23 and Me study on bipolar disorder and depression. They sent us two sample collection kits, we provided the sample, and we sent them back, thinking that we’d get only a partial report because we’re part of a study and not paying customers.

While we were in California, I got my results. (My wife is still awaiting hers.) They provided me with a full battery of reports, so I have a ton of new information about myself that I didn’t know.

They test variants on 42 different diseases, ranging from the well-known to the obscure. My results did not show a variant for any of these diseases. That’s good news!

They also test for genetic health risks for six diseases: age-related macular degeneration, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hereditary hemochromatosis, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and hereditary thrombophilia. They discovered a single variant for the first three of these, which means that while I do show one variant, it is unlikely that the disease will develop. The last three I had no corresponding variants.

They also checked for 22 different traits, ranging from eye color to back hair. They were right on 17 of the 22.

There were also reports on my genetic disposition to wellness, with a lot of disclaimers that state that these conditions are largely dependent on lifestyle and diet rather than genetics.

Finally, they also tested my ancestral makeup, the report I was secretly hoping they’d include. Since my mother was adopted, and we know nothing about my maternal grandfather, I was hoping this would help fill in the blanks, at least to the extent that I could say what my heritage is. I’ve been able to track one ancestral line back fifteen generations to England in the early 1600s, but beyond that I haven’t discovered anything.

In addition to my ancestry composition, I received reports on my DNA family (the number of DNA relatives I have in their database), my maternal and paternal haplogroups (a haplogroup is a group of genes in an organism that are inherited together from a single parent; my maternal haplogroup can be traced back to a single woman in eastern Africa 150,000 years ago and my paternal haplogroup stems from a single man living in eastern Africa 275,000 years ago), and my Neanderthal ancestry (measuring how many Neanderthal variants I have in comparison to other people in their database). These are all fascinating, but tell me little about where I actually came from. That’s where the ancestry composition report comes in, and I can finally say the sentence I’ve been waiting for years to discover.

I am of northwestern European heritage, primarily British and Irish.

More specifically, my results show that I am 72.2% British and Irish, 6.4% French and German, 1.2% Scandinavian, 1.1% sub-Saharan African, 0.1% east Asian and Native American, and 17.4% “broadly northwestern European,” a designation they use when a piece of DNA matches a regional population but can’t be assigned to a more specific population.

It’s a little anticlimactic, since I had a feeling that my results would point in this direction, but now I have a very good idea of my genetic makeup. I don’t have what you’d call pride in my heritage – in today’s charged political climate when the history books are almost exclusively my people’s history, stating that I have pride in where I come from smacks of supremacy, something I am vehemently and passionately against. I am happy to see that at least some small part of me is Scandinavian, given my Icelandic SCA persona, and I’m mostly intrigued by that portion of me that comes from Africa, but beyond that it’s just nice to finally have an answer to that age-old question “where do I come from?”

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