Thursday, February 19, 2009
Q & A with a 23andMe customer #2
Here's the second installment of my 23andMe series, this time featuring an American of European and East Asian descent...
Q: Why bother with this sort of thing? Was it to test your ancestry or genetic health risk factors?
A: It was more of a curiosity thing to see if 23andMe could accurately pinpoint my ancestry. The health risk factors were a bonus.
Q: Why 23andMe and not the apparently more thorough deCODEme? Was it the price difference ($399 vs. $985)?
A: The lower price was definitely a pro, but I decided on 23andMe even before the price dropped. I heard more good reviews from pleased customers. The fast turnaround time was also very important, although that whole thing kinda flopped with the alleged Oprah backup (editorial note: apparently the company was flooded with orders after a spot on the talk show).
Q: Was it easy getting the sample with the kit provided, and how long did it take from the time you ordered the kit to when you received the results?
A: It was easy to both receive, and use the kit. One good thing is that the return envelope they give is for 2-day FedEx shipping, so it minimizes some transit time required to send the spit sample.
It took 9 weeks to get my results after 23andMe received my sample. They send you an email notifying you when they receive the sample, but communication is extremely sparse to absent about any progress after that.
Q: What did you think of the results when you first saw them? Easy to understand? Did you have to send some follow up e-mails?
A: Their website is very user-friendly, and they do an excellent job at explaining them. 23andMe is a community oriented website, so if you're not clear about something, you can post about it on their message forum.
Q: How would you rate the accuracy of the scan against what you know about your origins?
A: Extraordinarily accurate. Interestingly enough, a friend pointed out there was a tiny bit of Asian admix. in the European, and a tiny bit of European admix. in the Asian. It just so happens that those impurities balanced themselves out to make an overall 50-50 mix.
Q: Has the information about your ancestry changed how you now identify ethnically or look at certain cultures or world regions? For example, do you now show more interest in Asia knowing that you have some East Asian admixture?
A: Nope; it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Even if something surprising would have shown up, like African admix., I don't think I'd pay much attention, or look into it. Unless the admixture happened to be significant, of course.
Q: Were you in any way disappointed with the results? For example, were you let down by where you ended up on the genetic maps or who your closest individual matches were?
A: Nope. Everything was pretty accurate, and predictable. I ended up in the Uyghur population on the genetic map. It wasn't surprising.
As for individual matches, my options are still very small. At this time, I am only sharing with a Finnish friend (editorial note: see first post in this series), and the default Japanese, Chinese, and Nigerian samples. My highest overall genetic match out of those is with the Japanese sample.
Q: Was the health information useful? Are you going to make changes to your lifestyle based on the data provided to limit some risks?
A: It was interesting, but I didn't see anything that made me want to make any special changes to my lifestyle.
Q: Would you mention the results during a doctor's appointment if you thought they might have relevance to your visit?
A: No. Maybe if I saw an elevated health risk that was completely through the roof, but even then I'd still be cautious about putting too much stake in it. All of this stuff is still all in its infancy. I think there are too many things we still don't understand, other possible markers relevant to these diseases we haven't discovered, etc.
If I went to the doctors office with a bad cough, I'd tell my doctor about lifestyle factors, like smoking, or pollution exposure. I'd also mention any respiratory diseases, etc. that might run in my family. But I think I'd omit that 23andMe found a marker in my DNA that might indicate a moderately increased risk for asthma.
Q: Looking back, was the experience worth the $399? Will you recommend the test to your family and friends?
A: I don't regret buying it, but to be honest, I wouldn't do it again. When I ordered my kit, it was supposed to only take 4-6 weeks. They then sent out an email saying it would take 6-8 weeks. Then it was 8-10. I got my results in 9 weeks. There are still people out there who are waiting 10+ weeks. Some people will have to wait longer. After waiting for something like 8 weeks, they were told their DNA was insufficient, and that they'd have to wait an extra 8-10 weeks.
I wouldn't dare order another kit until 23andMe clears up the uncertainty. To be honest, that much chaos makes me feel uncomfortable that things might not be going right over at the lab. I wouldn't want to send in my money, only to find out I have an AncestryByDNA situation on my hands (editorial note: AncestryByDNA recently closed shop).
Q: In the near future, when full genome sequencing becomes available to the general public at a reasonable price (i.e. around $1000), will you go for it?
A: Probably not within the near future. At the moment, finances are tight, and I don't think there's much else they could tell me about my genes that would make me want to spend this much money again.