It has become a bit like in Gattaca (awesome movie with Jude Law, Ethan Hawk, Uma Thurman), where a mans/womans profession is not longer examined by interviews or skill tests, but examination of their gene code. A young man, conceived the natural way, is genetically of poorer results than “improved” people, but still manages to become a space pilot by overcoming daily gene tests through borrowing another live (a crippled man with “engineered” genes). He uses finger tips filled with blood to get through controls and many other tricks. If the movie tells you that the mind can overcame many obstacles, I’m rather fascinated by the fact that you can today do these tests for yourself.
The company called 23Me (Google invested in it beyond others) is the first beyond at least two others offering that service. How does it work? Well, you buy a test kit for 999$, they send a package to you that contains a tube that you fill with 2.5Milliliter of your spit. That you send back to them and within 4-6 weeks you get your results along with some figures to it. They for example tell you your risk for Diabetes, your potential for getting a heart attack and your genome (are your genes closer to for example the average Chinese, Indian, African, European etc.)
The test they do is called SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) test. They extract around 600.000 data points out of your genome that are known for variations and therefore effecting risks for certain diseases. It is not even close to the humans complete genome of a couple of billions data points. Therefore the results are not complete. How does that affect the diagnosed chances to get for example a heart attack? Not sure, but even they tell you that some data points they know from the genome lead to a 79% chance of getting a heart attack, that does not mean that there are not other genomes that lower the risk and simply aren’t considered because they haven’t been extracted. What they do at 23andme is to take current study and research results and calculate a risk factor giving you the result based on todays knowledge.
This is quite a young science and it will evolve further and further, but the implications can already be pretty drastic. I personally don’t know how it would affect my live if I got told I have a high chance on getting cancer or Diabetes. Would I be able to change the risk by converting to a healthier live style? Would I be constantly scared and become a hypochondriac? I actually decided to follow a couple of bloggers that are testing the service already. Particularly interesting I find the influence on daily lifestyle if they are confronted with a certain risk.
If you’re interested in the topic, try reading these blogs:
- 23andme homepage and their blog “the spittoon”
- Buzzyeah gathered 1000$ for the test and is writing all about it
- Lara blogs about her test results. I like the heart pounding part when opening… Hell, everyone must be scared of eventual bad news!
- Wingedpigs blog is going into more detail about gene codes. Results are there as well
- Michael Arrington from Techcrunch tests himself for the sake of knowledge gathering. In this part he faces the same thoughts as I do, of what to expect.
- Megan examines her husbands DNA (examined in another test from deCODEme) in a video. Nice move. The video is display below.
- Good graphics and discussion of results in this very specialized “Nature genetics” blog. Test row started with deCODEme
- Comparison of companies offering DNA encoding service. If you’re thinking about it, have a look here.