Me and my genome

Friday 16th October 2015

I just got my DNA sequenced. We're living in the future.


A very short history of DNA sequencing

1995 - A few months before I started university the first free-living organism's DNA (Haemophilus influenzae) was sequenced at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. This bacteria has 1.8m base pairs.

2001 - A couple of years after I left university, the Human Genome Project published the first complete human genome at a cost of $3 billion. Human DNA has around 3bn base pairs.

2015 - Fourteen years later I can get my DNA analysed for £125.


Sorry, what?

A company in the States called 23andme offers personal genome testing. You spit in a test tube and send it to them. They look at your DNA to identify your ancestry, assess your risk of genetic diseases, predicted response to drugs, and check for inherited conditions. They started in 2008 but only began offering the service in the UK at the end of last year.

Ever since I found out they were offering the service in the UK I've wanted to get it done, and writing it up here seemed like a good excuse to do it! This blog is the best idea I've ever had.

So what have I learned?


Photo by Steven Coles,

I am the 0.1%

No real surprises here, I'm 99.9% European.

The remaining 0.1% is from Yakut, a part of northern Russia the size of India with less than a million inhabitants. This explains why I've always loved playing the board game Risk!

An estimated 2.8% of my DNA is from Neanderthals, compared to a European average of 2.7%. Neanderthals are the closest evolutionary relatives of modern humans, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago.


Genetic Risk Factors

This is the bit I'm really interested in, I'm not that bothered about how much DNA I share with Neandethals. 23andme looks at sections of your DNA that are associated with an increased risk of a variety of diseases. If you come up as a higher risk, it doesn't mean that you're definitely going to get the disease, but you might want to look into it further.

23andme gave me typical risk for nine genetic risk factors including Parkinsons, but it did flag up higher risk for two diseases that I wasn't aware of. It turns out that the rest of my family are well aware of one of them, so I'm looking at ways to avoid it.

For the other genetic risk I've registered for clinical trials with the National Institute for Health Research, to see if I can help find a cure in case I get it! I'm not really concerned about this, it's a late-onset disease and there's no history of it in my family who have all survived way past the age it normally appears.


Drug response

This section of the report gives me the all-clear for expected responses to drugs like Warfarin and Abacavir which can cause problems if you're sensitive to them.

It gave one abnormal response, I'm likely to metabolise a certain kind of medicine more quickly than normal. So if I ever do need to take it, I can let my doctor know that I might need a higher dose than most people.

Given how much doctors seem to hate self-diagnosis and information gleaned from the internet, I can only imagine my doctor's response to this.



Inherited conditions

A clean sweep here for 45 inherited conditions. To be honest I'd probably already know if I'd inherited most of them, like cystic fibrosis or the delicious-sounding Maple Syrup Urine Disease.


Guess Who?

The last section is fun - do my genes match me? According to 23andme:

  • I'm likely to have straight-ish non-balding blonde hair and blue eyes
  • I drink an average amount of coffee and metabolise it more slowly than average
  • I can taste bitter things, I have typical odds of disliking coriander and can smell asparagus in my urine after eating it
  • I have a lower than average preference for sweet foods. 



Absolutely fascinating, I'm really glad I did it. If you're interested here's a link - let me know what you discover!



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