Telemedicine-related companies like Personal Genomes are letting consumers get detailed information on their own genetic makeup.
The project — and related projects like 23andMe are an unprecedented step toward widespread dissemination of health information using technology, and the results will be exciting to see in the future.
How Does It Work?
For 23andMe, the lab test is incredibly simple. A user simply orders the kit, called the “Personal Genome Service,” from the online store. Afterward, when the kit arrives in the mail, the kit information is registered.
The kit comes with a small tube and a large, funnel-shaped opening to spit into, and a little saliva is all that is needed. After the user collects their sample, they send it back to the lab and await their results. Processing usually takes two-to-three weeks.
What Kind Of Information Is Available?
Once the lab posts the results, the exciting part begins.
Ancestry information is the first type that’s posted. A user can find out what mix of African, European, and Asian ancestry they have — all calculated using precise percentages. The system will also match a user up with other 23andMe users who share a common genetic background, allowing users to find new relatives.
23andMe reports that most users find over 100 new relatives using the system, and some people find, such as Europeans, find several hundred. According to 23andMe, users of Ashkenazi Jewish descent might find over 1000 relatives.
You can also find information on where your prehistoric ancestors thrived on the globe. 23andMe scientists review the literature and constantly update information on whether your ancestors “invent[ed] agriculture in the Middle East” or “paint[ed] bison in the caves of northern Spain.”
Health information is the second major development in genetic services like 23andMe. If you have carrier genes for diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, and many others, these genes can all be detected before you choose to have children, which can help you reduce the risk of life-damaging birth defects.
The genetic health information can also tell you if you’re predisposed to having diseases like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, or Alzheimer’s. This can help you make the right choices and prepare for health concerns later in life.