Genetic Testing using 23 and Me

23andMeLogo_MagentaLimeIn a break from the books I thought you might be interested to hear about my experiences with genetic testing….

I have always been interested in genetic testing, watching with jealousy as TV personalities had them done for various one-off programmes. I had no idea that it was possible for members of the public to get their genetic profile until I saw a post on Alex from Leed’s blog. I began researching the company and it quickly became obvious that it was something I wanted to do. I managed to persuade my husband to get the test too, so that I’d know his health risks and we’d have a vague idea of what we might pass onto our children.

23 and Me are based in the US, but it was surprisingly quick and easy to buy the test kits ($99 each) and post saliva samples back ($80 for DHL courier for two test kits).  After about six weeks we received our results. Luckily there were no big surprises and it was nice to discover so much information about how our genes are likely to affect us.

The Results

The results are divided into five sections:

  • Health Risk
  • Drug Response
  • Inherited Conditions
  • Traits
  • Ancestry 

The first four sections give reports on over 240 health conditions and traits as well as testing for over 40 inherited conditions. The results are listed in tables, with every item linking to an explanation of the scientific research behind each result. To give you an idea, here is the top of my ‘Health Risk’ table, showing my relative risk of developing each condition.


What was interesting was how unsurprising these results were. I suffered from Restless Legs Syndrome during pregnancy and the 4 other conditions in the top 5 have all occurred somewhere in my family before. Many people seem to be worried about learning unpleasant information, but if you are familiar with your family history then chances are that you’ll know most of the details already. I’d also rather be prepared and know which diseases I should keep an eye out for.

For me the most interesting section was the traits. At 5’11” I wasn’t surprised to discover that I have the ‘tall gene’, but it was interesting to know that I am unlikely to lose weight from a Mediterranean diet and have the muscle twitch of ‘an elite athlete!’ I love the fact that 23andMe update your results as new scientific discoveries are made as each time I log on there appears to be new information.

The final section is the ancestry one. Unfortunately mine was very boring. I’m 98.7% European, with the remaining 1.3% ‘unassigned’. If you’re of mixed race then this section will provide you with far more interest, but I’m afraid knowing I’m mainly British wasn’t that exciting!

My friends and family have all been interested in the results and many have ordered test kits for themselves. If you are interested in registering with 23andMe please use this link, as I receive $10 for each person who does so (apart from the test I have had no direct contact from 23 and Me and was planning to tell you about their service before they launched their referral scheme this week).

Genetic testing is almost unheard of in the UK, but is far more common in the US where there are debates around how much should be revealed to medical insurance companies. I am pleased to be one of the early adopters of this test and look forward to comparing my results with others.

Have you had a genetic test?

Are you interested in getting one?




20 replies on “Genetic Testing using 23 and Me”

Fascinating. I’m at a high risk for breast cancer so the topic of genetic testing has come up with doctors but I’ve decided against it. I already know I’m high risk. Like you said, I’m very familiar with my family medical history on both sides so I don’t think there would be any surprises.

I really want my husband to do the ancestry testing. He’s multiracial and while we know what races he is, on both sides it’s not definite the exact mix. He probably is actually more of another race than the race he identifies with (he doesn’t looked mixed race at all.) But he’s not at all interested in it. I’ll test the kids when they’re older 😉

Shan, Yes, that breast cancer gene is quite scary. Luckily I don’t have it, but all the press around Angelina Joli shows how seriously some people take the test. At least you know to keep a strong eye out for it and hopefully be able to catch any changes quickly.

Good luck persuading your husband – I found looking at the differences between me and my husband just as interesting as looking at my own. They help to explain a lot of things – like how he can down coffee late at night and I need to avoid it for hours before bed. Your husband’s ancestory sounds really interesting. Hope he decides to do it one day.

*grin* Glad you managed to persuade your partner as well. I didn’t know about the referral scheme being launched, will have to add a link to my posts as I swear getting my test does was one of the best things I’ve done. It gave (and keeps on giving me) a much better grasp on my European/Chinese identity which I really value.

Alex, They only launched the referral scheme a few days ago, which is a real shame as I’ve already persuaded lots of people to get tested. I deserve to be paid for the amount of hard selling I’ve been doing on their behalf!! Definitely add the link to your posts – I loved the way you break it down into a series.

I agree about it being one of the best things I’ve done. It was so interesting and has helped me to understand certain things about the way I am. Worth every penny! Thanks so much for letting me know about it.

Jackie, Thanks for sharing that information with your blog followers. That was really fascinating to see, and I’ll gladly forward your article and link to a number of friends and family I have in the UK.
I moved to Switzerland in 1999, and a few years later (early 2002) my mother was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer (which is the same defective gene as breast cancer; BRCA1 / BRCA2), something that runs in her family, but that she had been ignoring. Well, she fought a tough battle but died aged 57. So, about ten years ago I had the genetic testing done for the BRCA1 / 2 genes, and I tested positive for both and have a friendly “certificate” from the University of Geneva giving me a 87% probability for getting breast and/or ovarian cancer. At the time of testing I was only 27 years old, and we hadn’t started a family yet, but my doctor asks me every six months (we have two kids now and don’t want any more) when I’m ready for the double mastectomy and having the ovaries etc. taken out. Well, I’m not as brave as Angelina Jolie, and I don’t have the funds for such a great support network taking care of my family whilst I’m incapacitated, either, but I know that once I turn 40, my doctor will put more pressure on.

Out of interest; in your genetic testing, was BRCA1/2 not included, or did it just now show up on your results, because you have (hopefully!) zero predisposition?

Thanks again for sharing such interesting and important information!

Kats, Thank you for sharing your story. It is so interesting to know that the doctors are putting pressure on you. I had no idea that sort of thing happened (except to celebs), but I wish you all the best.

BRCA1/2 was included in my genetic testing. It came under my “Decreased Risk” heading, showing that because I do not have it I have a lower (and almost 0% risk) of getting these cancers.

Glad you found this information useful 🙂

My husband and I are definitely interested in doing this; I’m also a little nervous. My son did this a while ago and told us about it at Christmas. I’ll have to ask him if he knows about the company’s new referral program!

Laurie, It would be really interesting to compare your son’s results with yours – you’ll know exactly which traits come from you and which from your husband. Waiting for the results is nerve-wracking, but I hope you decide to go ahead and find it as interesting as I did.

I’m totally fascinated with this. I have breast cancer in my family, so I’ve been thinking about it. I wonder how accurate and reliable these things are?

Sandy, I think that the well-researched areas (like breast cancer) are very accurate. The results have a confidence rating next to them so you can see how reliable the company think each result is. Some of the studies, especially for lesser known diseases, are small and so the confidence isn’t as high, but it will do over time.

Diane, You don’t have to answer any question, just send the saliva sample. Once registered you can answer lots of questions that help them to make new discoveries, but that is optional and you can ignore them all. I’m pleased you found this post useful.

I’d love to do it – but after I’ve paid for holidays!

Although I know it’s due to biology, (mitochondrial D-N-A-nay-nay-nay-nay-nay-nay-nay as Eric Idle sings in The meaning of life to be specific!) but it is still a shame that women only get the maternal line on the ancestry side and men get both.

I am lucky enough though that a second cousin has researched my father’s side of our family tree back a few centuries.

Annabel, I agree about the maternal line. It was a little bit annoying that my husband got so much more information than me – I’ll just have to persuade my Dad to take the test!

Very interesting, Jackie. As I was saying on Twitter, I was just reading this book in which babies were genetically manipulated. It was… odd, but good. (Perfect People by Peter James).

I’m a little unsure if I would want to do this. As an amateur genealogist, I would be more interested in seeing if the paper-family tree (as found through the official channels) actually adds up in terms of genetic relationships to people.

Judith, Once the testing becomes more common it will be able to give you more information about family trees. It claims to have found lots of 4th cousins for me, but I’m not really interesting in contacting such distant relatives. I know a few people have found closer relatives that they didn’t even know existed. It will be interesting to see how this all develops over time.

This is all very fascinating! Thanks for sharing Jackie. I think I might go ahead and do it too (making sure to use your link if I do). Need to convince hubby first though.

This sounds really cool to know, particularly things like the “tall gene” and ancestry information. Most of my known ancestry seems to trace back to England, and perhaps other bits of Europe, but maybe there’s something we don’t know. I live in the US but I guess discussions of genetic testing hasn’t it made it to my social circles yet.

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