23andme is one of the first personal genetic testing companies offering DNA analysis for identifying health factors and ancestry analysis. It was set up in 2006 by 3 individuals including Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza and Anne Wojcicki, Sergy Bins wife.
The company focuses on 2 areas, the first, and most controversial area is the DNA testing for predispositions to traits and conditions ranging from baldness to blindness.
The second is the ancestry-related data giving you ancestry composition, DNA relatives and a family tree tool
Unfortunately the company has long been plagued with controversy surrounding regulatory issues. In November 2014 the FDA warned 23andme that by selling consumers a test and health reports that outlined their chances of getting dozens of diseases, plus their likely response to various drugs, 23andMe was effectively selling a medical device. That requires explicit approval—and the FDA said 23andMe hadn’t come close to providing enough evidence that its test provides accurate, reliable health assessments.
In order to bypass this ruling 23andme ceased providing the health reports to consumers in the USA and only provided raw data and the ancestry data.
However, this ruling seems to have promoted 23andme to expand into other countries with less strict rules on medical devices, and in December 2014 they launched in the UK. 23andme were kind enough to provide me with a free kit to test my DNA, this would normally cost you £125.
Turnaround time for the results isn't amazing fast, but faster than the quoted 6 weeks from 23andme. I sent my sample off during the Christmas period, they acknowledged receipt around 2 weeks later and I had all my results around 2 weeks after that.
My main interest was the health factors, and it is quite nerve wrecking when you log in about to find out if you are prone to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. In fact for risk factors for both Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, you are not able to view them immediately but must read a disclaimer before you view them, this is due to the obvious trauma finding out you are prone to Parkinson's Disease could cause. Thankfully I didn't have any of the variants associated with Parkinson's disease.
In regards to all the other factors, traits, and conditions, it is all a bit confusing at the volume of data at first. There are 106 different things testing for each with a report detailing the your exact results with varying degrees of confidence associated with each result.
Once I had got to grips with the layout and examined the data a little I started to become a little bit underwhelmed. Maybe it is because I am lucky and my results came back pretty healthy, with absolutely no problems highlighted. A lot of the factors I was most interested in, such as measure of obesity and male pattern baldness had questionable confidence behind them. In both of these examples the confidence factor was based on research of more than 750 but the findings still need to be confirmed by the scientific community in an independent study of similar size. So in general a lot of the results can be taken with a pinch of salt.
Overall, the genetic health factors were interesting and at they delivered exactly what was advertised, but I personally found it a little less interesting than I was expecting, albeit slightly relieving to know I am healthy.
I was significantly less interested in the ancestry analysis as I am adopted and never been interested in finding my blood relations. I personally didn't find the ancestry composition or my relation to Neanderthals particularly interesting but once my DNA relatives started to come in I did start taking more interest in it. At the moment I have 945 DNA relatives with the closest relative either a 3rd to 4th Cousin with 0.85% shared DNA. At first this sounded like I had found a close relative but if you look at how cousins work it the relationship is extremely far apart. However it is worth noting that the service only launched in the UK in December, it has been going in the States for several years, and all my matches were USA based. Over the next few months or years the UK data should grow exponentially and it is quite possible I will find a much closer relative. I am not sure if I am bothered about tracking down my birth parents but the prospect is quite interesting and it could be an absolutely amazing tool for people that are actually interested in ancestry.
Overall I found 23andme to be a good service, they deliver exactly what they advertise. The health results are not nearly as shocking or interesting as I had expected, but I guess this is a good thing. If you are interested in ancestry then this could be an absolutely vital tool if you are struggling to track down DNA relatives, however it is likely to take a while to have a decent UK based sample size. The overall price of the service is £125 and I find it a bit hard to say if this is a bargain or not, in the grand scheme of things it is not a lot of money and if it helps you identify problems areas allowing you to improve your lifestyle then it is totally worth it. If you are interested in the ancestry side of things then is definitely a tool worth looking at.