Finding Me and the Joy of SNPs

One thing I’ve been thinking about doing for years is taking one of those DNA tests that tell you your ancestry and whatnot. There are two main reasons for this: One, since I’m adopted, I wanted to get more information on my ancestry, and to hopefully confirm what little family information I have from my adoption papers. The other, I wanted to see if some of the recent medical issues I’ve had might have a genetic basis, and what other surprises might await me in the future. Well, I finally did it. Over the Father’s Day weekend, several DNA testing companies had sales, so I took the plunge. I decided to go with 23 and Me because, based on the research I’ve done, it seemed they offered more “medical” type information, and because they offer a “raw” DNA download that can be useful if you don’t want to pay for the full-blown Ancestry + Health test. So, I plunked down my $60 and got the Ancestry Only version, knowing they test the same thing regardless of which test you actually pick (it’s more efficient that way, and you can, of course, “upgrade” later which really only means they charge you a lot of money to generate a few reports.) It took about 3 weeks total from placing the order to results, and I have to say, I’m quite pleased.

First, it confirmed that the information in my adoption papers is, indeed, correct (my papers say my bio-father was of Norwegian ancestry and my bio-mother was of English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry.) It also confirmed that the limited genealogical research I’ve done with what little data I had, appears also to be correct, as I found a DNA relative who is apparently descended from my maternal great-grandfather, and has a couple of the same surnames in their ancestry that also appear in my family tree research, confirming I’m following the correct lines. And a couple of these lines lead back to before the Civil War in the southern USA. Which brings me to one tiny surprise in my test results: seems I have a little bit of Sub-Saharan African DNA. I know it was fairly common in the south, for some mixing to occur between whites and slaves, so this isn’t really unexpected. But it’s both cool and disturbing at the same time, because there’s a possibility this DNA got in my ancestry due to non-consensual relations.

Anyway, here’s a screenshot of my ancestry breakdown (I removed personally identifying information for obvious reasons):


That’s all pretty cool and all, but the real fun began when I started digging around in my SNPs or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. These are the mutations that make up our genetic diversity, and there’s a really nifty website called SNPedia that has all kinds of interesting stuff you can look at. 23 and Me has a DNA browser feature where you can plug in the name of a SNP, like say, rs4680 and then you can take the information they show as your genotype, and compare that to the information on SNPedia to see what version you have. SNP rs4680 is the “Warrior Gene” which, apparently, I have the allele for. This is interesting because the traits for the Warrior Gene are things like higher pain threshold, resilient, lower dopamine response, tend to handle stress better, and can turn their brains off when in “aggressive” mode (I guess warriors make better killers, because they can turn off empathy while they’re killing people?) Now, I’m pretty un-warrior-like, although I do have a bit of “fight back” when I’m attacked, although for me, this is mostly verbal, not physical aggression. But when I was a kid, I did sometimes get a bit physically aggressive if someone taunted me enough (I got sent to the Principal’s office once for pushing a classmate “because she dared me to.”) I tend to think I’m not very good at handling stress, and I’m a wimp when it comes to pain, but that’s mostly pain that lasts awhile, I am sort of tolerant of short term pain, but the anticipation of pain freaks me out (like my recent month-long adventure with the root canal from hell that I should probably blog about, or not.) So, maybe there is a bit of genetic predisposition to aggression or vengeance, but my environmental factors of being a small, shy, wimpy kid reprogrammed the “Warrior” out of me. Or maybe the test is wrong. Most (all) of the genetic traits these studies use are just based on samples that report stuff, or phenotypes that seem to correlate to genotypes. Correlation doesn’t mean causation and all that. Which is good, in a way, if you were to have “bad genes” for stuff like cancer.

Anyway, I haven’t plunged the depths of my SNPs yet, but some things are confirmed correct, such as that I hate bitter foods (I have all three of the “bitter tasting” genes), and cilantro tastes like soap (I’m heterozygous, but I still taste soap, but it’s a tasty soap.) I burn easily and have a hard time getting a tan (I have several genes that relate to that, as well as at least one “freckles” gene) and I’m apparently smart (I have several of the “intelligence” genes.) But I also have a gene variation that says I prefer sweets over salty (WRONG!) and that I supposedly can’t smell the stink of asparagus pee (WRONG!) so take results with a grain of salt.

As far as the health stuff, it looks like genetically, I’m pretty good, I don’t have risk factors for alcoholism, drug addiction, most cancer including colon and skin cancer, stroke, atrial fibrillation, type 2 diabetes, depression, and I’m lacking most of the “fat” genes. I do have a gene that increases risk of developing alzheimers and one for multiple sclerosis, but I also have a gene that supposedly predicts a lower chance of cognitive dysfunction as I age. I have one of the BRCA1 (breast cancer) genes, but lack the others, as well as the BRCA2 genes. I’m also not a carrier for Cystic Fibrosis (i3000001 in 23 & Me, rs113993960), which is something that my adopted mother’s family has unfortunately dealt with. I don’t have kids, but if I had, at least they wouldn’t have inherited that dreaded disease. I also have the gene that supposedly makes Viagra more effective, good to know if I ever grow a penis. 😉 That same gene though, also correlates to things like heart disease, so maybe not so great. I do have some risk factors for heart disease, specifically things related to sclerosis types, as well as hypertension and higher than average LDL cholesterol. Given I’m taking blood pressure meds, and on a statin (not happy about that, I’ve heard bad things about statins, and my cholesterol levels are barely elevated) I’d say that is spot on. Also, if my genealogy research on my bio-father is correct, he died in his 50s, as did a bio-brother, makes me wonder if it was heart disease related. I also have a gene that may be related to autism (I’m bit “odd” in the social relations department, not sure if it’s my early childhood environment of being in foster homes until almost four years old, or DNA, or a bit of both) and I might be prone to ADHD (I tend to have a bit of trouble focusing, especially on things like goal-setting or intense study, and I tend to notice EVERYTHING around me, sounds, smells, visual stuff, it’s hard to focus on conversations in busy places because I hear everyone.) I seem to be lacking most of the “anxiety” genes though, which is interesting, since, especially when I was a kid, I was a bundle of nerves and I still tend to talk myself out of stuff because I think of all the horrible things that could happen.

All in all, I’m quite pleased, I was expecting all sorts of genes for stuff like depression, alcoholism, anxiety, obesity, heart problems, cancer and whatnot given what I know about my bio family (from adoption papers) and my own experience (recent skin cancer and I’m a bit more “fluffy” than I’d like, and have always had to be careful about diet or I gain weight.) Most of the “bad genes” I have are offset by “good” versions of other genes. So hopefully that means more things are in my control. Which is sort of bad that more things are in MY control, can’t blame my DNA for everything.

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