Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Who am I? Who are You?

     The eternal question we all ponder, who am I?  Who are any of us?  Where do we come from? What makes us who we are?  Well at it's very essence we are made up of 23 and me.  Those are the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a normal human cell.  23 and Me (https://www.23andme.com/) is a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company based in Mountain View, California that provides rapid genetic testing for as low as a one time fee of $99. The $126 million genetic-testing company can tell you how to live smarter, better and longer.

AnneWojcicki, founder of the company had long dreamed of such an idea.  A former Wall Street executive with a degree in biology (very similar to myself - from pre med, wall street now to IT nerd), she has taken a personal interest in wellness into a thriving,
potentially groundbreaking business. Since founding 23and­Me in 2006--with the backing of an impressive list of investors including her *then husband, Sergey Brin, and the company he then ran, Google--she has been working toward two goals: "bringing the power of genetic testing to everyday consumers so they can better manage their own health care, and using the aggregated data from those tests to help doctors, scientists, hospitals, and researchers discover new cures for diseases that emanate from troublesome genetic mutations"- Fast Company. (Wojcicki and Brin announced their separation in August. A 23andMe spokesperson says, "He remains committed to the company.")

I first learned of this while watching Ann on Oprah five years ago. I was intrigued to say the least but at the time the price was $499, a bit steep for my blood.  When  I went on one of my first dates with Jay, my now husband. we started talking about.genetics (I know, we were meant for each other) and I brought up 23andme and he told me he had done it!  He showed me his results, and it was just as fascinating as projected.  At that point they had dropped the price down to $199 with a $20 monthly charged- much more feasible, so I gave it a whirl. Even more impressive now at the low one time fee of only $99!

Now, I cannot speak to other's results- but as for mine they were spot on, intriguing, and very impressive.  I spent hours looking over all the ways to slice and dice my genetic data.  As for my husband- he recently toted about the wonders of 23 and me in his most recent blog 5 life hacks you should be using today.  He knew his lineage down to the town, as his entire family has been tracing for decades.  He says, "The most interesting thing is seeing where your mother and fathers lineage was 500 years ago (before mass travel).  Mine was 100% correct - Inverness, Scotland and Nottinghamshire, England.  Yes, I am the direct descendant of Robin Hood and the Loch Ness monster"  Spot on accuracy, kudos 23andme!  As for me, ironically I grew up believing my mother was Polish and Italian.  Right before taking my test I had traveled to South Africa and everywhere I went, I was asked, "are you Portugese? Spanish?" .  Well, you can imagine my surprise when the test confirmed in fact I was...  Surprise mom :). 

An unfortunate side note, as a female, having two X chromosomes I am unable to see my paternal side (unless my estranged father or my half brother get tested)- therefore, I think women should only have to pay half price ;) Nevertheless,  it is a fantastic way to map your genome: test your lineage, check for potential health conditions, and fun facts all based upon your DNA, all from a saliva sample. 
You know how you hear those stories of a runner who goes out one day, and dies suddenly of a heart attack, never even knowing they had a heart condition?   What if that could have been prevented, or treated?  I was born with a atrial heart condition called a Mitral Valve Cleft, and have to go to a Cardiologist annually knowing someday I would need surgery... but what if I didn't know that?  Well, thanks to my health report on 240+ health conditions and traits I was able to see clear as day my condition (and other potential genetic conditions I may or may not be at risk for).  To me this is a true blessing because prevention is key, and can save lives, especially knowing you are prone to something or have a greater risk.  Now, recently I have read some countering arguments which loosely state "facts" of cases which they were not spot on, such as a man low risk to heart disease but had heart stents.  We have to remember, there is nature vs nurture, and although you may not be genetically prone to be high risk to something, however, if you eat poorly, are overweight, do not exercise, smoke etc these things could heighten your risks of course- and the test is not accounting for that. As for people who get the results, and make drastic decisions- they are not confirming you have, just stating you might be at higher risk- a smart person would check and get a second (or even a third) opinion! You should always do that no matter who tells you what, it is our job to fact check to protect our body.

Other interesting tid bits are the fun traits we may possess which mine were pretty darn close, if not exact.  What more?  you can compare against friends and loved ones?  For ex, I can see how I rank against my husband Jay:

Moreover, now that we are expecting our first baby, we can see our potential genetics we will pass on to our wee one thanks to their neat feature called "inheritance calculator":

It appears that McBainby will be a bitter tasting, wet ear wax having, 100% sprinting, no flush alcohol drinking (not till your 21 kiddo), lactose tolerant baby girl.  Eyes yet to be determined  for certain ;) Coming soon April 3.

<Our Baby Girl :)

Another bonus I was able to know for a fact Jay and I were not related prior to our marriage (no offense royal family), thanks to my ancestry finder.  I did however find 999+ relatives who share my DNA, a fond introduction to my 1-5th cousins from all over the world.  

We get to share lineage, common genetics, stories on our ancestors, and ways to maintain, treat, or  deal with some common traits and potential risks.  

So where do all of these ancestors live now a days, well we know that too- thanks to the geo mapping, I like to call this section, "Where in the World are Michelle's Relatives?":

The more people tested, the more information they collect, the more relatives I get to meet,  and the more we can learn about each other. Also, it inspired me to trace back my direct lineage as well, and now as I become a mother, what better gift to your future but then to share with them their past?

You can do a lot with $99, but why not try using it to find out a bit more about who you are, where you came from, and what the future might have planned for you?  There is one CATCH,... on November 22, 2013 the FDA sent a letter ordering them to stop selling and, shut down, or limit this wonderful and helpful health site: read the FDA Ban here.  This really made me upset, because I personally found this site intriguing, helpful, and informative.  I felt empowered having MY history and DNA in my hands, and don't feel it is fair to take that opportunity away from others who are intrigued to learn more about themselves as well and choose to participate.  If interested, I encourage you to please sign the petition to restore 23andme:  Sign Petition Here!