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DecodeMe & 23andMe - Comparison Review

Updated on January 20, 2011

People interested in determining their genetic proclivity towards certain diseases and health attributes have a few choices nowadays. I have used both 23andMe and DecodeMe and would like to share my experiences with both. While both have substantially similar offerings (both health and genealogical background snapshots), the devil is in the details, details substantial enough to bridge the $1,500 price difference.

a health snapshot
a health snapshot
a genealogical snapshot
a genealogical snapshot

23andMe - applies the 80/20 rule effectively

To get a very good snapshot of your genealogical background (where your maternal and paternal lines find their origins), and quite a good view of your genetic susceptibility to a number of afflictions, 23andMe does an impressive job for about $500.

The process is simple. You place an order online, and have a kit sent to you. You have to fill a vial they provide with your saliva and Fedex it back to their labs. In a few weeks, you'll get an email saying they've scanned your genome and that your results and accompanying analysis is available online.

The screenshots to the right give you a broad view of what 23andMe gives you:

  • disease risk, based on base-pair genes correlated to disease incidences in studies (for example: having a TT genotype for gene marker rs1024161 correlates with a higher risk of alopecia areata, while a CC genotype, conversely, correlates with a lower risk); over 80 are currently tested for
  • carrier status, for hemachromatosis, cystic fibrosis, and over 20 other health conditions
  • traits, more fun-to-know stuff, like the likely color and texture of your hair, whether your earwax is wet or dry, etc.
  • drug responses, or how you are likely to respond to various drugs; I found out that I am more sensitive to warfarin than average, so would likely need a smaller dose if I were to need to take it
On the genealogical side, 23andMe reports:
  • both your maternal-line (your mother's mother's mother's...) and paternal-line (your father's father's father's...) haplogroups, by examining your mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA, respectively
  • your relative proportion of African, Asian, European and Native American blood
  • your global similarity to other populations
  • the option to find and connect with people who could be related to you. I found and connected with someone with the same specific ethnicity as one of my parents who 23andMe guesses is probably my 5th cousin. I thought this was pretty cool, and only really possible due to the fact that there are many, many users of this service the world over.

DecodeMe health snapshot
DecodeMe health snapshot
DecodeMe ancestry snapshot
DecodeMe ancestry snapshot

DecodeMe - tests for the expensive stuff

DecodeMe's service is very similar in a lot of ways, but different in price ($2,000 for DecodeMe vs $500 for 23andMe) and in a few crucial tests. 

In terms of process, you swipe the inside of your cheek with a couple of special swabs, and return by Fedex to their sample collection center. These are then shipped to Iceland where your genome is decode and analyzed. It took me about 2 weeks to get results, similar to 23andMe.

The results that are presented, both for health conditions and for your genealogical/ancestral background, are strikingly similar to that of 23andMe. (Naturally there are some differences in presentation - see the screenshots to the right) What DecodeMe does that justifies its price (quadruple that of 23andMe) is that it tests for and reports on some conditions that 23andMe does not, including:

  • Alzheimer's - this is the big one; the tests for APOE can cost $350-400 alone, and DecodeMe also tests for CLU
  • Heart attack - DecodeMe tests for 9 implicated genes, while 23andMe only tests for 2
  • Type 2 Diabetes - DecodeMe tests for 21 correlated gene variants, while 23andMe tests for 10
The increased analysis and gene correlation exists for a large number of conditions, from psoriasis to lung cancer, and in many cases, there is little overlap between the two providers' offerings. 

Have to choose?

I suspect that for many people, the price difference alone will make 23andMe the more attractive option. However, if you want stronger indications on health risks, and, especially, a test for Alzheimer's, then you'll probably want to either opt for DecodeMe or at least supplement 23andMe with individual genetic tests from other providers on the conditions you're concerned about. 

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