I had some exciting news today. And being the popular guy that I am I just had to call someone to tell them about it…. my Dad….
Dad: Great! Maybe they will put it in the right order?”
Great Dad, thanks. Maybe if you’re so concerned about that you should have done it properly in the first place?
So, er… yeah, this is me, Dr Who. I’ve decided to sequence my genome. And I’m going to share it with you here.
I’ve thought about it for a while. I’m a bit of a nerd like that. I’ve got a wristband that tracks my activity, and an excessive amount of cycling / running / sleep / food tracking apps on my phone to quantify and statistically analyse my life. I’m trying to be healthy.
I’ve known about gene sequencing for a while too. A few companies in the USA (and some over here in the UK too) have been offering personal sequencing services for a few years. But now the price has plummeted it’s becoming available to regular normal people like me (and you).
I want to know a bit about my DNA to try and improve my quality of life in the future, and maybe even my lifespan.
Who does it?
I’ve opted for the company 23andme which is a decision totally based on price. They have just sliced their asking price to USD$99 (plus a bit of a hefty $79 for international shipping – which makes a total of £110 in real money).
For the money, they send you a plastic tube to spit into, they’ll collect it off you when you’re done, and then a few weeks later, they’ll post your results online.
It’s not comprehensive. They don’t sequence your whole genome. They do single-nucleotide polymorphism genotyping (SNP) at about 600,000 locations to get an overview. If you want the whole hog (Full Genome Sequencing) you’ll have to pay a few thousands dollars, and ask someone else.
But that’s still pretty awesome given that it took the Human Genome Project over a decade and about $3 Billion to do basically the same thing 10 years ago.
What do you get?
They’ll give you a personalised brief of your heritage, ancestry, and, most interestingly for me, your genetic health risks. It’s no where near comprehensive, but apparently it gives you your relative risks of about 100 different diseases. It links it to the evidence too, if you want to read more about it.
And that’s my motivation. Well, that and the fact that I find it fascinatingly interesting. I want to know what I’m most at risk of, so I can (if I can be arsed) modify my lifestyle to minimise my risks of these diseases. If I’m at high risk of colon cancer, I’ll eat more fibre. If its osteoporosis, I’ll drink gallons of milk and go crazy on the weight bearing exercise. Well, that’s the idea anyway.
But, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. What if I find out I’m very likely to get Alzheimer’s? Or Parkinson’s? There’s not much I can do about that, and suddenly I’d have this thing hanging over me.
Or would I? I don’t think I’m the kind of person who would be bothered. I’d hope that if I did have some nasty surprises, then it would motivate me to get even more out of my life whilst I can.
If I did have something sinister in the family, then perhaps I’d already know about it. I’m pretty lucky. Apart from a dose of hypertension and some general aches and pains, my parents are pretty fit, and I still have three living grandparents who are defying their age, despite a bout of colon cancer (thanks NHS!). I’m not expecting to find anything nasty.
Most intriguingly of all (for geeky doctors like me) you can have access to the raw genetic data if you like. Find out what genes you have, and go crazy with it on Google. This is literally going to give me hundreds of hours of…er… entertainment?!
Over at 23andme they are also adding more analyses and disease reports on a regular basis, so you can check back in a few months, see what’s been added, see if the data has changed, and check for new developments.
But it’s not all quite smiles, kittens and butterflies. Remember that plummeting price? Well yeah, there’s some corporate shenanigans going on there. To offer their services at this price, they’re (presumably) selling, or at the very least, giving your data to third parties for research. It’s all anonymised of course, but some people might not be too comfortable with that. And what about all this hacking that goes on these days? It’s quite plausible some evil teenage boy (probably working for an unscrupulous government somewhere) could manage to get your data from 23andme’s servers, and that stuff will be personal. Quite what they could do with it I’m not sure.
Then there’s the insurance companies. What if they find out about it, and I cant get any medical insurance? It’s not an issue right here and now with the NHS, but for those abroad, and possibly for us here in the UK at some point in the future, it might make things difficult. But hey, life is about risks. No-one had any fun by not doing something. So I’ve put these concerns to one side, and I’m excited. Really freakin bloody excited.
I’ve ordered my tube. Now I have to wait.
When it arrives, I’ll keep you updated.
I’d be really interested to hear your views on this topic below. If you’ve got a minute, please do join the discussion!