If you've ever watched an episode of the PBS series "Finding Your Roots" you're probably interested in genealogy. The series, hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., follows the same basic format. It begins with a celebrity providing the information they know about their family history and then presents what the records actually reveal. At the end the person is presented a DNA breakdown of their heritage.
The company 23andMe did the DNA testing for the series and you don't have to be a celebrity to find out what your DNA reveals about your ancestry. Anyone can order a DNA testing kit from 23andMe. Once you have your kit in hand, register your kit id numbers online, then spit into the provided containers and mail you samples back to the company. In approximately 2 to 3 weeks you will have your DNA results.
In addition to ancestry, you will also receive a break down on how your genes may affect your health. Results will include your potential carrier status for 47 conditions, risk factors for 119 diseases, including breast cancer, Alzheimer and stroke, drug response to 20 drugs and traits such as lactose intolerance or blood glucose.
The ancestry part of the equation is interesting and could reveal some unexpected surprises in your family background, but I feel the health aspects should be taken with a grain of salt. While the test appears to be able to detect increased risk factors for various disease and conditions, it does not test the full range of markers. Any health concerns that show up in these test should be discussed with a physician.
A big plus for those searching their family history is the relative finder feature. Basically it's social networking for you DNA. If you choose to share your information this feature will allow you to locate and make contact with other members who share your DNA. The relative finder feature will even predict your relationship to these matches.
This can be an interesting and fun service when used to satisfy curiosity about your background, but don't lose site of the fact that some very sensitive health issues may be discovered. Before utilizing this service, carefully read the consent document and privacy pages to fully understand how your genetic information might be used and how it will be protected.
The typical cost for this service is $299, but right now the test is only $99. I don't know how long this price break will last (or if it's permanent), but it's a great opportunity to find out a about your DNA history for a small investment.
Take a Journey Through Your DNA with 23andMe.com