[Did You Know . . .] What’s Inside Your DNA?

by Russ Irons ‘19

23andMe is a service that allows you to discover more about yourself through your DNA. For $99, you can get detailed breakdowns of your DNA composition. I opted for the genealogy only kit, but for $40 more you can get a health report that uses your DNA to determine if you are more prone to certain ailments.

The process of obtaining and doing the kit is simple. Order one online, and it ships to your house. You spit into a plastic tube, close it, and secure it back in the box that already has the return information on it. Once the kit arrives at 23andMe, it takes six to eight weeks to process and interpret your sample. Waiting about two months can be a hassle, but it is well worth the wait. The results appear online and you receive an email notification as soon as they are ready.

The results appear as a chart next to a world map, and the different regions are color-coded so you can easily tell what region is where. The results can also tell whether or not you had an ancestor living in a country recently. For instance, I am 7.2 percent French and German, and the test specifies that I had an ancestor living in Switzerland within the last two-hundred years. There is a chance some of your DNA will show up as ‘unassigned,’ but that is simply due to the vast diversity of the human genome.

The fun doesn’t stop there. The test tells you the haplogroups of your parents, and gives background on where the group originated. A haplogroup is a genetic population that shares a common ancestor through their mother or father, an example being someone with the haplogroup H shares a common ancestor with European royalty like Marie Antoinette. Women only see their maternal haplogroup because they carry two X chromosomes, whereas men see the haplogroups of both parents from having an X and Y chromosome.  This gives you an idea of where your ancestors lived 40,000 years ago and what their society was like. The test also shows how many Neanderthal variants are in your DNA, and which traits you are likely to have inherited from Neanderthal ancestors. Such features include height, straight hair, and more. Lastly, upon receiving your results, you can search the 23andMe database to find potential relatives among customers who consented to sharing their DNA composition. Most of the people you find will be distant relations like 3rd and 4th cousins. In my case, I found a second cousin that no one in the family was aware of. Someone has some explaining to do.

The 23andMe DNA kit was well worth the price. I found out a lot about myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. Based on my results, my parents were able to deduce rough estimates of their genealogy, too. You might be surprised by what you find.