Saturday, August 30, 2008

Time to analyze my DNA

Our local public radio station, KUOW, aired a program on Personal DNA Testing that convinced me to finally get off my duff and order my own DNA testing kit.  Although I've been eager to do this ever since the kits became available, I've put it off because (1) it's expensive (about $1,000 per person), (2) similar tests are available from several vendors and I was waiting to see reviews on which is best, and (3) as with all technology, the longer you wait the better it gets.

I was finally pushed me into making the order because of one of the show guests,  Dr. Kathy Hudson, who argued that I'm too stupid to be trusted with knowing my own DNA and that the government needs to regulate our access to these tests for fear that people like me might "further strain" our "overburdened healthcare system" with frivolous questions about our bodies. Last month California told these companies to cease and desist, and it seems to me that there's a real possibility that after the elections we could have a regulation-happy Congress that does this nationwide.

It reminds me of how years ago when the PC industry was just getting started, there were little software companies popping up all over the place, founded by college drop-outs who had absolutely no training in computer programming.  This was back in the Carter years and I remember a congresswoman, upset about the "dangers" of poorly-written software, introducing legislation to make it illegal to sell software unless it was written by "professionals".  She wanted a new bureaucracy that would clamp down on "unauthorized" programmers so she could protect the public from buggy software.   When Reagan arrived, of course, the proposed legislation quickly died, but the tide could turn again and I can imagine a future congresswoman applying the same logic to prevent me from "unauthorized" viewing of my DNA results.

There are three companies I know of that will do these tests, but I ultimately decided on 23andme because (1) I studied under one of their advisors, and (2) it's run by an elite Silicon Valley team that I'm confident won't fly by night.  To do the test, you supply them a very large sample of spit, which takes about 6 weeks to analyze.  After that, you get an online version of about 500,000 SNPs ("snips") that describe areas where your DNA differs from other humans.  Every day there are new discoveries made about how SNPs relate to health and genealogy, so the important thing is to get a listing of your SNPs now so you can apply the new information.  I can't wait to get the results!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You seem like you're the sort of person who might want to know not only what Kathy Hudson doesn't think you're qualified to know about yourself, but would also like to know things beyond what 23andMe tells you.

If so, check out the (free for individual use) program called Promethease tool that will analyze all your DNA variations as reported on the chip 23andMe uses, in light of what's known about them in the scientific literature as reported in the equally free SNPedia website.