Genetic Self-Analysis and the Plot to Live Forever

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My father’s father had an intense interest in genealogy, tracing back his ancestry to as far back as 15th century Switzerland. My own interest matched my basic interest in history, which is to say history back about a hundred years I find interesting, then I prefer to skip the following several centuries until halberds and crossbows were back in style.

This being the case, it’s not surprising that I became interested in 23andme‘s incredibly cheap ($99 USD) genetic analysis. It’s true, the FDA blocked them from providing medical analysis, but they still let you download the raw data, and it wasn’t hard to find third-party providers of medical info.

Now, I never had any particular doubts as to my parentage, and there was enough evidence of being a fairly generic European mutt that I wasn’t expecting anything terribly interesting on the genetic front.

What I got, however, was this:

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First, the minor surprise – basically no Scandinavian-specific DNA (apparently my ancestors were very good at running away from Vikings), and virtually no Southern European DNA either (a little surprising given my family’s connection with the Swiss Romansh, but it turns out most of the Romansh group actually wasn’t Roman, but Celtic and other groups).

So, okay, instead of a European Mutt I can now confidently call myself a “British Isles-Franco-German Mutt” instead. Workable.

But then I noticed something positively weird. Hidden there on my sixth chromosome was a patch of DNA from…Yakut?

You know, Eastern Siberia. Nomadic reindeer riders.

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At first, I couldn’t figure it out, and then a friend made what should have been the incredibly obvious connection: the Mongolian Empire’s invasion of Europe.

And, sure enough, when I read the 23andme ethnic analysis more closely, it pinned the date of the geographical estimates to about 500 years ago, which while about a hundred years after Ghengis Khan decided that riding across (and burning) Europe would make for an entertaining summer vacation, is still (in historical terms) spitting distance.

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Now, the Yakuts are not Mongols, although they are right next door, geographically speaking. While the details can obviously never be known, it seems pretty clear that somehow, some Yakut (or maybe half-Yakut) went along for the ride on one of the Mongol Empire’s several excursions.

Add in the trace amount of Eastern European DNA as well, and it all suddenly fits pretty well together. (Yeah, it’s not exactly hard to figure out how a Yakut warrior in a Mongol horde got together with an Eastern European, but let’s try not to think too hard about that and just try to imagine the best scenario for that…Um, unlikely historical romance…right, that’s it…)

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The medical results were trickier. With the FDA blocking 23andme’s reporting, I had to find third-party software that could do the same thing, which I proceeded to do.

These results were interesting – though definitely something no hypochondriac should ever, ever try themselves.

Dozens of indicators appear, and if you don’t read the fine print – meaning, x1.5 risk of getting some horrible disease sounds awful, but when you see that the base chance is 1/1000, it takes some pretty egregious stacking of bad genes to substantially change your odds.

After lots (lots) of analysis and a little ill-considered math, some of the more interesting pieces of the Heretical Genome:

The Bad Stuff

  • Higher risk of nicotine dependence (good thing I don’t smoke)
  • Higher risk of hypertension (true; I have just barely avoided falling into the hypertension category)
  • Higher risk for heart attack
  • Significantly higher intake of sugar (guilty as charged, though I am surprised there’s a genetic reason for this)
  • Obstructed airwaves (I did, in fact, have surgery a number of years ago for this)
  • The “Warrior Gene” associated with “aggressive and antisocial behavior” (this is definitely not me at all, unless one counts a tendency towards introversion as antisocial behavior; I also have a gene associated with empathy, so perhaps it just balances things out)

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The Neutral Stuff

  • Ultra fast metabolizer of drugs, including alcohol (this is funny, as it is something I am actually well known among my peers for – I get drunk fast, but I get sober just as fast)
  • Lots of bitterness receptors (explains my lack of enthusiasm for most beer)
  • Cilantro doesn’t taste like soap (true)
  • Blue-ish eyes, curly hair and white skin (I know, shocking…)
  • Less likely to be able to smell asparagus metabolites in urine (um…okay)

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The Good Stuff

  • Lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (my grandfather died of this, so…comforting)
  • Lower risk of Parkinson’s disease
  • Lower risk of Dementia
  • Lower risk of age-related physical impairment
  • Lower risk of cocaine dependence (um…yay?)
  • Higher HDL (true)
  • Blood type O- (that is, universal donor – I’m a giver, not a taker)
  • Longer telomeres (these are the things that help you live longer)
  • Better memory (lies)
  • Higher levels of empathy
  • Low incidence of cystic fibrosis
  • Low incidence of hemophilia (damn it, there goes my dream of vampirism)
  • Low incidence of epilepsy
  • …As well as a bunch of resistances to diseases I generally have never heard of

So, in summary: I am going to live forever. Unless I die of a heart attack first.

All in all, I definitely recommend the exercise (assuming, of course, you can keep any hypochondriac tendencies at bay) both from a hereditary and a medical perspective.

For the latter, in particular, it helps to read what the information means very carefully, as even for a relative non-hypochondriac like myself, it’s easy to become alarmed at the inevitable sea of red negative associations. Then (unless, of course, you are that aforementioned hypochondriac) you do the math and realize that a change of 0.1% to 0.3% chance of getting something horrible is no particular reason to panic.

Unless, of course, you have the bad math gene and just carried the decimal point two steps in the wrong direction…

2 thoughts on “Genetic Self-Analysis and the Plot to Live Forever

  1. “(Yeah, it’s not exactly hard to figure out how a Yakut warrior in a Mongol horde got together with an Eastern European, but let’s try not to think too hard about that and just try to imagine the best scenario for that…Um, unlikely historical romance…right, that’s it…)”

    You shouldn’t judge by contemporary standards. That was probably romance back then : )

    Seems like a very affordable test, but I have no idea how to interpret the raw data. I did some genealogy a while back but lost interest when I realized that my great grandmother had falsified the records to make my grandmother a legitimate child.

    Btw, have you tried Belgian mayo? Delicious and very unlike the others I’ve tasted before.

    • I have never had a lot of interest in conventional genealogy myself, mostly because I simply don’t trust people’s ability to reliably track this sort of thing back very far.

      The genetic component, on the other hand, is much more reliable, though it obviously isn’t great for the same kind of information – using both in conjunction is probably not a bad idea.

      Interpreting the non-genealogical data did take a while and was definitely not trivial, but for an information junkie like me it was worth the effort.

      As for Belgian mayo, yeah, no, not going to go there, sorry. Ever. Okay, not sorry at all.

      My distaste for mayonnaise is so layered with issues with consistency, flavor, color, linguistics and psychology that I actually check twice before even eating Greek yogurt or sour cream.

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