Because we live in a wonderful and interesting time, it is now possible to have your deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analyzed for a couple hundred bucks. DNA molecules, which are embedded in the nuclei of most of the cells in your body, contain the genetic instructions that are responsible for many of your physical attributes. An analysis of your DNA can reveal information about your ethnic and racial ancestry, physical traits, and even your health and the likelihood of developing certain illnesses.
There are several companies that provide DNA analysis services, with most focused solely on ethnic and racial ancestry. Some companies offer a more detailed analysis that also looks at your genetic traits and health. Melissa and I decided to have one of these more in-depth analyses done, and we chose the “Health + Ancestry” package from 23andMe.
The process is pretty simple. You order a testing kit online, and they send it to you. When you receive the kit, you follow the instructions and spit into a tube until you’ve collected the required amount of saliva. You seal the tube shut with the included stabilizer fluid, and mail it back using the included return package. Then you wait. Within a few weeks, you get your reports back, which you can view and download from their web site. And if you’re a nerd like me, you can even download a ZIP file of your genetic code for future reference.
So what did my report reveal?
I already knew that I was part English. I am a descendant of William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony, who came over to the Americas on the Mayflower in 1620. I also knew that my great grandmother was Polish. But other than that, I’m just your standard, generic, American white guy made up of various European stocks that have co-mingled here in the colonies.
It turns out that I am, indeed, 99.4% European. No big surprise there. Here’s how that breaks down:
- 84.5% — Northwestern European
- 33.1% — British and Irish
- 15.5% — French and German
- 3.7% — Scandinavian
- 32.3% — Broadly Northwestern European (non-specific)
- 11.5% — Eastern European
- 3.4% — Broadly European (non-specific)
According to the estimated timeline provided by 23andMe:
- Between about 1890 and 1950, I probably had a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was British and Irish.
- Between about 1830 and 1890, I probably had a first, second, or third great-grandparent who was Eastern European (this lines up with my Polish great-grandmother), and another who was French and German.
- Between about 1770 and 1860, I probably had a second, third, fourth, or fifth great-grandparent who was Scandinavian.
African and East-Asian or Native American
So what makes up the remaining 0.6% of me? Well, wonder no more:
- 0.5% — Sub-Saharan African
- 0.5% — West African
- < 0.1% — Central and South African
- < 0.1% — Broadly Sub-Saharan African (non-specific)
- < 0.1% — Broadly East-Asian and Native American (non-specific)
According to the estimated timeline, this means:
- Between about 1710 and 1830, I probably had a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh great-grandparent who was West African.
- Between about 1710 and 1800, I probably had a fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh great-grandparent who was Central and South African.
As is fairly common with people who have a long, multi-generational history here in the United States, I have some African ancestry. And based on the estimated timeline, it probably entered my lineage in the era of slavery. I’m guessing that means one of two things: A heartwarming tale of forbidden love against impossible odds, or (much more likely) some white guy took one of his slaves as a concubine (with or without her consent).
Health, Wellness, and Traits
Regarding my health, I was pleased to learn that I have none of the genetic markers for being a carrier or developing any of the diseases that 23andMe tests for.
I also learned that I am tolerant of lactose, not prone to gaining a lot of weight if I eat a lot of saturated fats, predisposed to weigh about average, not likely to be a deep sleeper, and likely to consume an average amount of caffeine. Of course I knew these things already (except the saturated fat one) . . . so this is mainly only useful to me as confirmation that 23andMe knows what they are doing.
Since there’s nothing particularly interesting in my health and wellness reports, let’s take a look at some traits revealed by my DNA:
- I am 75% likely to be able to smell the asparagus pee smell (correct!)
- I am 78% likely to not have a bald spot (so far so good; sorry dad!)
- I am 80% likely to have detached earlobes (correct!)
- I am 52% likely to have blue eyes, 21% likely to have greenish-blue eyes, 17% likely to have green eyes, 8% likely to have light hazel eyes, and 2% likely to have brown/dark eyes (my eyes are hard to determine, but they’re somewhere on the blue/green spectrum)
- I am 86% likely to have a ring finger longer than my index finger (correct!)
- I am 73% likely to have little freckling (correct!)
- I am 97% likely to have straight or nearly straight hair (correct!)
- I am 71% likely to have light hair (well, it’s mid-brown, which I suppose counts as light)
- I am 52% likely to not have male hair loss (so far so good)
- I am 96% likely to have lighter skin (correct!)
- I am 71% likely to prefer salty treats over sweet (correct!)
- I am 58% likely to have a big toe longer than my second toe (correct!)
- I am 94% likely to have little or no unibrow (correct!)
Again, 23andMe got pretty much everything right. Not bad for a report they put together based on a careful examination of a tube full of spit!