23andMe: What’s It All About?

23 and Me LogoBefore we begin, this is all me. I’m not shilling for 23andMe. Many people in the adoption community ask about 23andMe and the other genetic testing services. This is a review, I suppose you could say, of the 23andMe service.

Ever since we first adopted Jackson, I imagined that, one day, we would do one of the online genetic testing services for our kids. We have limited medical information available to us, even with our open adoptions. Genetic information is so important, we knew we’d eventually want it.

Enter SB277.

There are some doctors who will evaluate the results of genetic tests—specifically the 23andMe tests—to look for issues that might warrant a medical exemption. Yes, we’re moving. However, if, for some reason* we are forced to stay in California, we would like a fall back to protect Cassie and still allow her to go to school.

At the time of this writing, the 23andMe test costs $199, plus shipping. (The site was doing a shipping promo, so we paid $201.24.) We bought the kit at the beginning of January.

When we first got the 23andMe kit, we saw a test tube and we saw instructions that told us to have our daughter fill it with spit. However, you couldn’t eat or drink anything, including water, for 30 minutes before you filled up the tube. I had no idea how I was going to get a 4-year old to spit that much. This is what we figured out:

  • You don’t actually have to fill up the entire tube. If you look, you can see a fill line. It’s very hard to see, though. You have to hold the tube just right in the light.
  • You can touch something sweet or sour to the kid’s tongue to stimulate saliva production. We used Smarties, and we gave Cassie the whole roll once she was allowed to eat again.
  • If you can’t even make it to the fill line in one sitting, that’s OK. You can fill it over the course of a day or multiple days.

We sent the kit away… and waited. We sent the kit back in February. We got our results on April 12.

There are 64 reports—3 ancestry reports, 36 carrier reports, 6 wellness reports, and 19 traits reports.

The ancestry reports are the most fun, I think. We can see the Ancestry Composition:

“the proportion of your DNA that comes from each of 31 populations worldwide. This analysis considers DNA you received from all of your ancestors on both sides of your family.”

Cassie is 57% Sub-Saharan African, 40.7% European, 1% East Asian and Native American, .2% Middle Eastern & North African, .1% South Asian, and .6% “unassigned.” You can get a finer breakdown of each of these groups, too.

The other two ancestry reports are the Haplogroups, which can tell you where your maternal ancestors were from, and Neanderthal, which tells you how much of your ancestry can be traced back to Neanderthals.

Each report contains the sections “This report can tell you” and “This report cannot tell you.” The reports are very easy to read and they’re also quite friendly in tone and usability.

Before you go on to the carrier status reports, you must read a large warning – as in, a warning that is set in big print. Basically, it reads, “make sure you want to know this, because once you see it, you can’t un-see it.”

The 36 carrier status reports range from ARSACS (“a rare genetic disorder characterized by loss of sensation and muscle control, as well as muscle stiffness that worsens over time”) to Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum (“a group of rare genetic disorders”). Again, each test tells you what it means and what it doesn’t mean, as well as how you can use the results.

The wellness reports are rather random. They test for specific markers related to caffeine consumption, muscle composition, sleep movement, alcohol flush reaction, deep sleep, and lactose intolerant. For the most part, this didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. Well, we didn’t know about the alcohol flush thing, but we really didn’t need to know that right now.

Cassie sitting in a chair

See? Really curly hair.

The traits reports range from boring to fascinating. There are categories for hair, skin, facial features, physical characteristics, physical responses, and taste and smell. On the boring spectrum, I didn’t really need a $200 genetic test to tell me that my daughter has straight or wavy hair—mostly because my daughter has incredibly curly hair. Seriously. Her genetic likelihood of having very tight curls is 2%, but she has very tight curls.

But I digress.

On the fascinating spectrum, Cassie may perceive extreme bitterness when she tastes certain compounds in food. Upon reading more, I realized this could actually explain her picky eating, at least in part. Fascinating! And useful!

The site gives you the option of participating in research or not. It also gives you the option of sharing your information to create a family tree or find DNA relatives. I opted not to participate or share. My gut feeling is that Cassie should be the one who decides what happens with her DNA.

If you are an adoptive parent, and you have the extra $200 to spend, I do recommend 23andMe. Heck, I know my maternal genetic lineage back to the early 1700s, and I might do this test one day, just to hook up to the family tree database and see what happens. It’s great information to have. We plan on doing this test for Jackson as well.


* “What reason?,” you ask. We came up with two:

  • What if my father or grandmother experienced a serious decline in health? Would we really want to leave either of them in that situation?
  • What if my company decided I couldn’t transfer my job to NH? That would be a game-changer.

We don’t foresee either one of these things happening. I just like to plan for all contingencies.


8 thoughts on “23andMe: What’s It All About?

  1. My kids did 23andme right around the time they stopped being allowed to do the medical stuff. Daughter got hers in on time, but son did not. So I sent his results to that company that does it for $5. Starts with a P. I also took the 23andme and Ancestry tests, the latter because my parents were doing that one. Both kids have distant matches with other adoptees from Korea, which is mildly interesting, but not useful. But since Koreans from Korea are less likely to use 23andme, it has little real use for that purpose. I will say that there is a fair # of the “traits” that are not correct for me, so I understand that hair thing you are talking about. What was scary was to see the mental illness genes in my report . . . . Anyway, my question is: so now 23and me is back to giving medical reports? I wonder if my son can get one from them?

    • I had to do a little research. 23andMe used to provide a lot of results about how likely one might be to develop certain conditions, like Alzheimer’s. They don’t do that anymore, but they do provide info on whether a person is a carrier for certain genetic diseases. I hope this helps!

      • Some things it is difficult to know what to do with. Daughter has pretty “clean” genes, except for some heart thing. What can she do with that info? Not much.

  2. I plan to suggest my (adopted) son do this when he starts asking more questions about his ancestry. I feel like I should follow his lead on this one. He’s 9.

  3. My concern with this kind of stuff is how the information is used by the company that now has a collection of DNA from people. I know folks are rolling their eyes right about now but read Medical Apartheid. More things happen than we know about.

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