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Planning Retirement Online

Are you a real Neanderthal? – online genetic testing

Genetic testing is all the rage – who are we, who are we related to, where did we come from and what illnesses are we likely to develop are just some of the exciting areas that are mentioned by the various companies that are offering these services.

It all sounds wonderful but it is also well beyond most of our understanding. And that means we could well be subject to wasting our money or even worse gaining inaccurate results that cause us unnecessary worry or concern.

Last December California based personal genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe starting selling its services here in the UK. The name by the way comes from the 23 pairs of chromosomes that occur in a normal human cell.

23andMe’s strong website offering services that cover both medical and ancestry aspects looks hugely appealing. For £125 customers simply provide a sample of saliva which is sent off to be analysed.

Results include assessments of inherited traits and risk of genetic disorders and genetic risk of getting some other conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some very specific types of cancer.

DNA can also affect how medications work, and testing can give information on likely responses to various drugs.

But there is lots of fun stuff too – the saliva can also be tested and analysed to determine whether you are likely to develop a flush when you drink alcohol, or whether you have what is known as the GG variant, which means there is a real probability that you will be unable to smell asparagus in your urine.

23andMe also uses your DNA analysis to examine your ancestry; perhaps what percentage of you is Neanderthal or what percentage of your DNA comes from different parts of the world.

It all sounds hugely exciting and initial interest has been high. But there are also more worrying aspects. The website mentions their services as a way to plan for the future…learn if you are a carrier for certain inherited conditions, so you and your family can be prepared.

Here at Laterlife we have no knowledge of whether it is all groundbreakingly fabulous stuff or fraught with error and misleading information.

However, before parting with your money it is worth looking at the company’s background.

Two years ago the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered 23andMe to discontinue marketing its personal genome service as the company had not obtained the required regulatory approval. This meant there were concerns about the potential consequences of customers receiving inaccurate health results. The other services offered such as ancestry assessments were allowed to continue.

Also two years ago two class action lawsuits were started in America against the company, both based around misleading advertising and seeking damages representative of the purchase price paid by thousands of customers.

But this has not affected the steady growth of 23andMe. By last month the company had genotyped over 1 million individuals and i s customer numbers in the UK are thought to be increasing as more is written about genetic testing. The company is also very clear that it does not share its genetic data with insurance companies or any other interested parties without a person’s consent (always check you have read all the boxes when you sign up for anything online).

Dr Ewan Birney, associate director of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, says the science at 23andMe is soundest behind their ancestry report. “The majority of the rest of the reports are generally based on very small shifts of risk which are better served by simply living more healthily and getting more exercise,” he said.

And this probably sums it up well. 23andMe certainly does not offer proper diagnosis, but its softer results covering traits and ancestry can be fascinating.

There are many other companies now entering the DNA testing market. With today’s modern families, DNA Home offers a test to confirm you are really the grandparent of a child…

Or DNA Ancestry offers just ancestry testing:

Drop in as well:

23andMe offer services to help you learn about your maternal and paternal lineages.
You can discover your unique history from over 750 maternal lineages and over 500 paternal lineages. They trace everyone's maternal ancestry by a small portion of DNA passed down from mother to child. Males trace their paternal ancestry through the Y chromosome passed down from father to son. Both men and women receive information about both sides of their family from the other 22 chromosomes.


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