Consumer Question – 23andme

The musings on the random and tragic nature of life remind us of how little we know – and control. But it reminded me of the marketing of a step toward more control: how good are the DNA products? My daughter’s friend, visiting for Thanksgiving, sent her spit to 23andme. The results included a genetic tendency toward weight-related diseases, which led her to a diet and gym membership. Not surprisingly, it linked her with her mother, but also with a cousin neither she nor her mother knew existed. They met, looked each other over, compared notes: they were cousins.

Anyway, she sat in our living room flipping through her smart phone (it gives monthly updates); she was vulnerable to diabetes but less so to Parkinson’s. Genetic weaknesses are becoming obvious as we near retirement; unfortunately, we learn our vulnerabilities at every office visit.

Still, has anyone done this or similar ones? How accurate, how useful, and how much does this (or do others) add to the cloud-knowledge of genes & disease? (Other friends used a different site, but learned what human history would say – that they were both from England and before that Africa.)

Of course, whether it is worth the money or not, whether it is accurate or not, ignores the big question: does such knowledge lead us to believe we have an autonomy still not – never will be – ours? Will knowing more of “who we are” mislead or arm us?

5 thoughts on “Consumer Question – 23andme”

  1. That’s the thing about knowledge. Anything that gives us greater power over ourselves and nature has obvious benefits. But such power also brings potentially pernicious effects: the possibility of intensifying our faults rather than virtues, and the possibility of increased power over others (which implies an increased power of others over us).

    We have come to consider all such increases as net positives. But you are wise to consider the downside possibilities as well.

  2. For many people this kind of knowledge is unambiguously beneficial. Two obvious examples are people whose known odds of having inherited serious disease are high, and people who were adopted. I knew a guy who died of colon cancer in his late forties. He had been adopted and knew nothing of his biological parents. I think that he would have gotten himself tested much earlier in life if DNA tests had been widely available, and that might have saved him.

  3. This sort of thing, basically, ties to your own needs to know about things. I think, as suggested, the possibility of noting inherited risks is a good idea. But it’s not good if you also inherited a tendency towards hypochondria… :-D

  4. Still, has anyone done this or similar ones?

    I have.

    How accurate, how useful, and how much does this (or do others) add to the cloud-knowledge of genes & disease?

    I have as yet no means to test the accuracy.
    Not useful.
    No idea if this adds to the cloud.

    I have had many requests from “fifth cousins” who seem to think fifth cousinhood is a close relationship and eagerly requesting all familial names to fill the space in the genealogy. That’s very funny.

    The highest disease index on my own test was 33%, but that declined with age, apparently, as when I entered my age, it dropped to 5%, which is not worth any worry.

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