Spit, ship, discover: Map your DNA with 23andMe


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What if you could collect some of your spit and for $99 have a fairly full grasp of your DNA makeup?

23andMeMeet 23andMe, a company “dedicated to helping individuals understand their own genetic information using recent advances in DNA analysis technologies and Web-based interactive tools.” The name refers to the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up a person’s genome.

Here’s how it works: Once you’ve received your kit and sent your spit — results take six to eight weeks — 23andMe’s lab extracts DNA from cells in your saliva. Your DNA is then copied many times until there is enough to be genotyped. The process is a bit complicated — it’s best explained by 23andMe — but once the lab sends you the results, you’ll learn the following information, which you can access in an online account:

Personal ancestry

DNAStrandsThe Relative Finder helps you connect with other 23andMe members who share DNA and ancestors with you. “Until now, DNA genealogy tests could only tell you about a small part of your family tree, because they only used the Y chromosome and mitochondria,” says the website. “By including autosomal DNA, Relative Finder can find relatives on any branch of your tree.”

You can browse members who match your DNA and make contact anonymously. The site allows you to send up to five introductions per day.

The Global Origins page will map your global origins. For example, if you're African-American, the site can reveal what fraction of your ancestors were African, and what fraction were European. It can also determine if you have any Native American ancestors within the past five generations with a technique called Ancestry Painting.

And check out your Ancestral Lineages, where you can “immerse yourself in the lives of your ancestors.” Here you’ll be able to explore your ancestors' migrations and accomplishments. Your lineage will be updated as discoveries emerge. You’ll also find out if you share an ancestral path with a celebrity. Bonus if you can tell your friends you’re related to Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, Warren Buffett or Bono.



Even more important, though equally impressive, is the understanding you’ll gain of how your genes impact your health.

Learn your Carrier Status and find out if your children could be at risk for 40-plus inherited conditions. 23andMe tests for a number of mutations, including cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs.

Discover your Disease Risk. Your results will help you make more informed decisions about your health care. You’ll make better lifestyle choices. For example, if you discover you have a high risk of developing diabetes, you can change your habits, exercise more and lose weight if need be. With your results, you can watch out for common conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration. You’ll also be able to prepare for serious diseases. For example, one rare mutation tested by 23andMe is associated with a 60% lifetime risk of Parkinson's disease.

You should also visit the site’s Drug Response page. Share your results with your doctor to help find out whether certain medications will be right for you. Learning about your DNA can help reveal whether your need more or less of a medication and whether you could be at risk for certain side effects. You can also determine how effective medications will be for you. Certain genetic variations can interfere with certain medications.


Here are some fascinating findings we can thank 23andMe for discovering:

  • Seven genetic associations identified for breast size, including three already strongly correlated with breast cancer.
  • Six genetic associations for early-onset male pattern baldness and their association with a number of diseases, including Parkinson’s and prostate cancer.
  • A genetic variant that could protect people at risk for Parkinson’s Disease.