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decoding destiny: part two
what happens when you know?
by michael d. driscoll
7.13.09
pop culture


38 days after my spit sample was sent for DNA analysis I received an email with the subject line "Your Genetic Profile is Ready at 23andMe!"

After years of wondering what I'm made of the answers were just a few clicks away. Would I see my medical future? Being the first person in my family to go through genetic testing would I find a hidden disease we all share? And even though I know there is no question of who my parents are, would I find something to the contrary?

Click Click Wow
Like reading a college acceptance letter every word held the greatest of meaning. This is only a problem when you read so fast you see a few words at a time and start to draw conclusions from them--as I did.

welcome


"Welcome" What a great word to read when you first enter. I'm going to live!

"Clinical Reports" I'm dying or worse! Wait..what's worse?

"Research Reports" That seems like a lot of information. Not ready to read that yet.

"Maternal Line" My Mom's mitochondrial line; I wonder what I inherited from that side of the family. Can a person die from perkiness?

"Paternal Line" My Dad's Y-chromosome lineage--what have you done to me, old man?!

My secure home page is filled with personalized data, surveys I can take to reveal more information about myself, genetic tutorials, new research data and recent community posts that match my own information. There are discussions about paternal lines, global similarities, haplogroups, and personal traits. The day of joining the global genetic discussion using my personal data has arrived.

I finally honed in on the information I imagine everyone wants to know first--the bad stuff.

Clinical Reports and Disease Risks
This uplifting section lists clinical reports 23andMe considers notable based on my genetic information. The page is divided into Disease Risks, Carrier Status and Traits along with the ever-present discussions topics on at the bottom of the page. My data is not shared with other members, but 23andMe matches my data to current discussions and allows me to get involved if I choose.

My disease risks are pulled to the forefront based on a calculated risk (20% higher than average makes it to the top of this list). Surprisingly there were few surprises. I have increased risk for psoriasis, Type 1 as well as Type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer. Well that's not too bad. Itchy, dry skin--bring it on (not really). Diabetes--meh, not the end of the world. A healthy lifestyle can prevent most triggers for Type 2, and I'm well outside of the age range for a Type 1 diagnosis. Prostate cancer was a bit surprising to see yet highly curable if detected early and the tests (bloodwork, physical exam) can be added to my yearly physical as a precaution.

I have markers in my genes that show a decreased risk of having kidney disease, OCD OCD OCD OCD, breast cancer and cluster headaches. And there is a long, frightful list of disorders that I am at typical risk for getting including eight diseases associated with females. Thanks to Dad's fast male swimmer I've avoided lady problems such as endometriosis, placental abruption, preeclampsia and uterine fibroids.

Traits and Ancestry
This is the fun stuff. According to my results I do not have a flush reaction when drinking alcohol, I can taste bitter and my ear wax is considered wet. My eyes are likely blue and I tolerate lactose. I'm not resistant to malaria. My muscle performance data shows I'm likely a sprinter (as evidenced by my 2nd grade blue ribbons from field day) and I'm not resistant to HIV/AIDS. This information goes way behind what I thought I would get. In fact, I see this as a bonus despite already knowing a few of these traits already (eye color, lactose tolerance...etc.).

One of the more interesting sections within the Ancestry section are the origins of my maternal and paternal lines. My mother's haplogroup (families of mitochondrial DNA types that all trace back to a single mutation at a specific place and time) is H3, which is a subgroup of H families that originated in the Near East and expanded throughout Europe at the end of the lce Age. We 3s (H3s) likely branched off in Iberia and expanded across most of western Europe after the glaciers melted. The DNA I received from my mother's side is greater than 15,000 years old.

My paternal haplogroup is 2,000 years older than my mother's. This haplogroup has changed since I joined 23andMe, meaning the group data has been refined and I'm now assigned to a different subgroup. Science evolves and data changes with new research and classifications. As a subgroup of the most common haplogroup in western Europe (R1b1b2) my DNA has been circulating on the planet for more than 17,000 years on my father's side.

There is also an Ancestry Painting, a color-coded map of my chromosomes one segment at a time. Europeans are blue, Asians are orange and Africans are a greenish yellow according to the legend. Here's mine:

anpaint


Oh shit. Now what?
I admit that in Part One of this series I was glowing and optimistic, even sporting a Zen-like calmness about my results. "Knowing does not change what is" is still a good line. But for one hour, a few days after receiving my results, I was a little freaked out at the responsibility of knowing.

What if I do everything right and I still get a disease? What is really going to change now that I know? These days I probably run more on the treadmill. I seek out better foods and limit the bad ones. I do small things to calm the fear that I'm not doing enough.

I also focus on the unforeseen truth that I not only paid 23andMe to decode my possible medical destiny, but I uncovered information about my past, which revealed information about OUR pasts (we're 99% similar you and I).

So many of us have genes that were present in some form when our ancestors walked into warmer weather out of the Ice Age and danced under a full moon celebrating the birth of a child that would go on to make all the right decisions for us to be where we are right now: yelling at each other in traffic.


ABOUT MICHAEL D. DRISCOLL

Curious about everything, Michael plans to do it all. A ruffian by day and a lover by night he's managed to go where no one else has gone. His slight forgetfulness means he is curious about everything and plans to do it all. A ruffian by day and a lover by night he's managed...

more about michael d. driscoll

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COMMENTS

alex b
7.13.09 @ 2:43p

After reading this, I now want to do what you just did. How awesome is it that you've learned all this? Very cool!

robert melos
7.14.09 @ 2:20a

So can this be used to match you up with your perfect genetic mate?

sandra thompson
7.20.09 @ 8:51a

A few years ago I sent my spit and $100 to the National Geographic Genographic project and discovered that my genes haven't done any mutating since my ancestors got as far as Finnland. I printed out a certificate stating my haplogroup, which, BTW, I've since forgotten. Since I'm 75 years old I doubt it would be very cost effective to know all the diseases predicted in my DNA since I've no doubt already had most of them (breast cancer, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, kidney infections, endometriosis). I think it's good to know these things, particularly if one is young enough to make some lifestyle changes to improve one's health and increase one's longevity.

Love to your perky mother, who, no doubt, is at least partially respondible for a certain spark of perkiness in yourself. We perky people need to support each other because we all know there's enough moroseness out there waiting to kick us in the stomach.





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