All of us have 23 pairs of chromosomes and on those chromosomes, there are approximately 20,000-25,000 genes that provide the instructions for how our bodies look, and function in the world. The chromosomes that contain the genes and DNA form a double helix that looks like a twisted ladder where the rungs are represented by 3 billion base pairs of 4 amino acids called nucleotides. These chromosomes crammed into the nucleus of every cell in our body contains a molecular blueprint that gives us our ability to either thrive or feel challenged by various health stressors that all of us experience. If you could unwind the chromosomes and stretch it out straight the nuclear DNA of just one cell would be six feet in length!
The Human Genome Project was tasked with the job of sequencing those approximately 25,000 genes (a section of a chromosome) and the approximately 3 billion base pairs of in the human DNA (the rungs of the ladder). It took 12 years and approximately 4 billion dollars and it was completed in 2003. The science that sprung from this is called Genomics and it is dedicated to understanding illness from an individual patient perspective. Using Genomics, doctors, and scientists are taking the information from mapping an individual’s DNA to see if they have a genetic susceptibility to a disease such as diabetes, or depression, or finding out if someone may or may not respond to a specific medication such as a chemotherapy drug.
The company, 23andMe can determine from a single saliva sample the sequence of those 23 genes and all the base pairs. This information can be used to find hundreds of people with similar genetic backgrounds such as 3rd, 4th, or 5thcousins within their database, the percentage of Neanderthal genes that you carry, reports on physical traits, and whether you are a carrier for a specific disease. Most important, (in my opinion), you get a downloadable report that contains tens of thousands of bits of raw data that make up each of our genetic profiles including those genes with SNP’s. SNP’s are single nucleotide polymorphisms and indicate an inheritance of a gene from one or both parents that in some genes indicate a genetic weakness. Geneticists use the terms homozygous or heterozygous to describe the purity of the gene. Homozygous would be the same gene from both parents. That could be both good or both bad. Heterozygous means different so it would mean one good one bad. Therefore, there are three possibilities: 1. two good 2. two bad and 3. one good and one bad.
Unless you were a geneticist I doubt you would be able to make much sense of the downloadable report from 23andme. Thankfully there are software companies that are taking this information and along with the currently accepted agreement about what these genes represent, interpreting the data for us. One of those companies is Methyl Genetic Nutrition and by taking the downloadable report, they can assign a strength indicator to various genes that relate to nutritional health, and generate a 25-30-page report in under a minute. To each gene associated with some of “the good guys and bad guys” mentioned below, they assign a blank or a zero, a 1, or a 2 to the gene. A blank or a zero is a strong genetic profile for the gene being analyzed, a one indicates a parent has given you a weakened version of the gene and a two indicates both parents gave you a weakened gene for the characteristic or trait being analyzed. These two columns represent a portion of the major genetic pathways DNA testing can evaluate.
23andme offers two options. For 99.00 you can find out your missing cousins and if you are lactose intolerant but you won’t get the more important genetic information. To get that you must pay 199.00.