DNA and Ancestry Test Kits

I've sort of taken up DNA home test kits as a hobby.  It sounds weird, but I was fascinated.  I first became interested in this in March of 2016 when I began building my family tree on Ancestry.com.  At that time, I had DNA test kits done with my sisters and my mom to identify our different genetic heritage, and I wrote about it here.

In March of 2017 when I began building my Day Zero Project list, I included completing a 23andMe DNA test kit.  Aside from doing the ancestry piece, they also test for genetic health risks, which I find interesting.  A friend of mine got hers done a few months ago and it was so interesting to see her results.  When the kits went on sale after Thanksgiving, I decided to give it a whirl.

At the same time, just to see the differences in the kits, I ordered my husband a Vitagene DNA kit.  The Vitagene kit is geared more toward how we are genetically predisposed to metabolize food components, food sensitivities and so on, and given my husband's new battled with autoimmune type food allergies, I thought this would be great for him!  I also encouraged my mom to do a 23andMe kit, because then we can link together as DNA relatives and I am curious to see how that looks.

The kits are all simple to use.  The Ancestry and 23andMe kits use a small volume of saliva.  You spit into the provided tube and then as you screw the cap on it mixes in a liquid, then you seal it up and send it back in the prepaid packaging.  For the Vitagene kit, there are two cheek swabs, which after being used are placed into tubes and also sent back very easily.  Note: the Vitagene kit is currently only available to U.S. residents.

All of the kits were easy to activate on their respective websites.  The 23andMe and the Vitagene kit will ask you a list of questions pertaining to your health, diagnosed conditions, prescriptions and so on, but the 23andMe website has an almost infinite-seeming number of optional questions to answer for research purposes if you are so inclined.  I have participated in surveys asking about my sleep patterns, fertility, family history, food allergies. and even how my skin looks.

Also, the 23andMe kit asks additional questions about your suspected heritage because certain ethnic backgrounds are more likely to carry certain genetic risks.  Because I fall into two of these ethnic categories, I am at increased likelihood of carrying these genetic traits.  My husband falls into neither ethnic category, so I was interested to see if I carry it and if that could then impact potential offspring.

I did discover, through the 23andMe test, that I am a carrier of the PMM2-CDG variant, which is a congenital disorder of glycosylation type 1a.  The test informed me that I could potentially pass this variant on to my children. This made me especially interested in discovering if my husband also carries this variant, and what that could mean (we thankfully discovered that he is not a carrier).

When I completed the Ancestry DNA kit back in 2016, it took about 6 weeks from the time I sent my specimen in until I received my results.  On this test, I did not clearly adhere to the instructions about waiting long enough after eating or drinking and my first sample was rejected.  This was disappointing because I had to start over, but they sent me a free replacement kit.  With the 23andMe kit, I put it in the mail on Tuesday, November 28 and had my results back before Christmas.  For the Vitagene test for my husband, his kit went into the mail the day before mine and his results were also released just before Christmas.  We figured this was smart because once all the Christmas DNA kits got opened, there was probably going to be a tremendous backlog.

There are privacy concerns regarding these tests.  These at-home kits are not regulated and you are putting your genetic information and health risk factors into the hands of third parties who have the possibility of using this information.  Some worry that this could at some point create problems for people being discriminated against by employers or insurance companies.  There is no doubt there is a risk involved in allowing your genetic material to be tested in this manner.  My father refused to have his Ancestry DNA kit done specifically for this reason.  However, when it came to weighing the odds on this risk, my curiosity beat out my normally highly sensitive conspiracy senses.  However, I do advise that anyone interested in taking any of these tests thoroughly read the privacy statements and think carefully before submitting a specimen.

I am pleased with the ease, speed, and thoroughness of these tests.  These tests are not meant to replace a diagnosis from a doctor, but can only tell you the likelihood that you carry certain traits.  For example, my blue-eyed mother took the 23andMe kit and it correctly told her she is likely to have light colored eyes.  However, it incorrectly told her she was likely to have her big toe be longer than her second toe.  These are not "make or break" findings, but it does illustrate how these tests indicate the likelihood of a person exhibiting a specific trait or condition, it is not a guarantee, and the websites themselves make that clear.

From the time you receive your results, you also have the capability of downloading your raw DNA file, and then using other third party groups (such as Promethease) to take your raw DNA and generate a lengthy list of your genetic information.  It is not as beautifully laid out as the reports from Vitagene or 23andMe, but there is good information there.  Again, please note the risk of downloading and sharing your raw DNA files.

Another great resource to learn more about this kits can be seen here!

However, if you are interested in understanding your genetic health and ancestry, I highly recommend these kits.  They are easy to use, fun and comparatively affordable.

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