23andMe Review

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.

The Health Overview page highlights your disease risks, carrier status for certain conditions, drug sensitivities, and other interesting health info like whether your ear wax is wet or dry
The Health Overview page highlights your disease risks, carrier status for certain conditions, drug sensitivities, and other interesting health info like whether your earwax is wet or dry
The Disease detail page gives you much more detail into the disease itself, what SNPs have been studied to correlate to it, your relative risk compared to the average person, and the estimated genetic component to your overall odds of developing the
The Disease detail page gives you much more detail into the disease itself, what SNPs have been studied to correlate to it, your relative risk compared to the average person, and the estimated genetic component to your overall odds of developing the
The Traits detail page shows your genotype and its impact on the analyzed trait.
The Traits detail page shows your genotype and its impact on the analyzed trait.

23andMe Health

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.

Your maternal (and paternal, if you're male) line description lets you know your haplogroup(s) and where your ancestors hail from (we're talking like 30,000-50,000 years ago...well before the dawn of history)
Your maternal (and paternal, if you're male) line description lets you know your haplogroup(s) and where your ancestors hail from (we're talking like 30,000-50,000 years ago...well before the dawn of history)
The "global similarity" feature places you among global population clusters.
The "global similarity" feature places you among global population clusters.

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.

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25 comments

nicomp profile image

nicomp 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

This is really cool! Thanks for sharing.


gredmondson 6 years ago

Livelonger, this is so interesting. Thanks for the informaiton and for the comparison.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, guys!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

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.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

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.


gr82bme profile image

gr82bme 6 years ago from USA

Wow, i have never heard of this. Very intresting! Good hub. Will rate up


aladdin2010 6 years ago

Wow, i love science ...do you know why??

just for things like this :) great hub.


ahostagesituation profile image

ahostagesituation 6 years ago

Never heard of this one, and it's cheaper. Really curious now.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California

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.

K9


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

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.


Ren Chin profile image

Ren Chin 6 years ago

neat!


Norah Casey profile image

Norah Casey 6 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

Great review! I completed the 23andme process as well. It was a lot of fun, found out my recent ancestry is Irish. Surprise! ;)


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

Imagine that! Hey, at least you have DNA confirmation now. ;)


Leon Kull 6 years ago

Thank you for your review.

I invite you to participate in cross-vendor relative finder that I am running:

http://hirs.snpology.com

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


s.carver profile image

s.carver 6 years ago from San Francisco

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.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco Author

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.


Nichelle 5 years ago

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.


Kevin Peter profile image

Kevin Peter 5 years ago from Global Citizen

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


Jennifer Solomon 5 years ago

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).


scauthor1969 profile image

scauthor1969 5 years ago from Upstate South Carolina

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.


kingreed 5 years ago

you are the man... im ordering one in jan...


Ideas On Wings 4 years ago

I've found 395 family members through the 23andMe Relative finder...great service and worth the price!!!


Ben 4 years ago

Just to be sure, it's $207 not $500 right?


livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

My apologies, Ben - it's $207 now. They've had a number of price changes over the years.


Ben 4 years ago

Wonderful :)

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