To Learn True Fear, I Sequenced My DNA

Against all odds, I’m getting older, which in today’s world means that my love of technology is starting to run into my generalized distrust of the monolithic corporations we’ve pledged allegiance to in order to send unwanted dick picks at the speed of light. That means I had some trepidation about handing over my money, DNA, and privacy to a faceless corporation in exchange for a broad estimation of my heritage, but my fiancee wanted DNA tests for Christmas, so here we are.

We went with 23andMe because they had the best Black Friday sale, though the sale wasn’t good enough to make me pony up for the health tests. Still, given my paternal grandmother’s Joker-like approach to her origin story, it’d be nice to know if I was really “1/6th Viking” or if she just said that because it’s what I wanted to hear.

Turns out I’m .7% Scandinavian, but with 16.5% of my dna being tagged as Broadly Northwestern European, I’m willing to give Gram the benefit of the doubt. The real news here is that there’s only about 1.1% Southwestern European DNA in me and no outright Italian DNA. I know these things aren’t super accurate, but being that I’ve always been told my Dad’s grandparents were straight off the boat from Italy, I suppose we should find out where they were before that and where they picked up this nightmare of a last name.

My heritage, exposed for all the world to see.

And yes, I know my father is my father, if only because a good portion of our family can’t tell the difference between baby pictures of myself and baby pictures of my half brother.

But when it comes down to it, I don’t really care where I’m from. I only want to know two things: how I’m going to die and how I’m going to suffer. Because of this, 23andMe almost got the $100 upgrade for the health test. However, it turns out they let you download your raw data and analyze it yourself. Since I’m cheap and prone to delusions of grandeur (i.e. “I can be a DIY geneticist!”), this is the road I took.

In what comes as a surprise to no one but myself, I know fuck-all about genetics. That meant interpreting the 23andMe raw data–hundreds of thousands of entries with headings of “rsid”, “chromosome”, “position”, and “genotype”–was going to take some research. So I started at the beginning and asked the internet what the hell a rsid was. Here’s the definition from the 23andMe website:

The rs number is an accession number used by researchers and databases to refer to specific SNPs. It stands for Reference SNP cluster ID.

Well, that clears it up.

In their defense, the 23andMe website does go on to clarify rsid and SNP to the point that my cheap joke isn’t completely fair and I eventually got up to speed on the wonders of our DNA (mostly by staring at long enough to pretend I understood it). Still, my need to gaze into the abyss of my massive insignificance to the universe overcame my concerns about privacy and I decided I needed some outside help to make sense of all this.

I started with GENOtation, mostly because it’s free. It’s a neat way to organize the information from the raw data (which the site says is never sent to any server), but required slightly more work than I was willing to put in, so my journey continued elsewhere.

For whatever reason, I skipped over the most popular paid option–Promethease–in favor of an iPhone app called Genomapp. The app provides a couple of reports for free, but the more interesting–the ones about how I’m going to die–require a $9.99 in app purchase. Riding high on Christmas gift cards, I took the plunge. It’s a very well designed app. The reports are easy to use. It also said I don’t have Cystic Fibrosis, a thing my DNA has been screened for at least twice.

I threw my enzymes right in the fucking trash.

I believe this comes down to the fact that 23andMe does not refer to my specific mutation– Delta F508–in the way that everyone else does. According to SNPedia, ( most people refer to this SNP as rs113993960. However, 23andMe have to get cute and call it either i3000001 or i5011261. A quick search of the raw data shows that I’ve definitely got i3000001 kicking around in there, though it shows my Genotype for this SNP as DD. The very little I know about genetics includes the fact that the DNA only use G, A, T, and C as bases, so I had a fun Google adventure where I finally confirmed that “DD” is how 23andMe specifies a deletion, which meant that the raw data was correct and I should ask Genomapp for a refund.

While screaming “what the fuck does DD mean?” at my computer, I found out that Promethease would be free for the next week or so. Though I found their demo data to be a little overwhelming, the price was right. So I uploaded my file and waited for the email saying my data was ready.

Wow, did it deliver.

There are little boxes on the side that let you filter by Good and Bad genes, so I told the good genes to fuck off while I basked in the glow of my impending demise. And right at the top was my old friend, Cystic Fibrosis, along with a whole host of new things to contemplate late at night while I marvel at the vast randomness of the world we live in.

Hello Darkness, my old friend…

I eventually looked through some of the good stuff as well, though not enough to get my hopes up. Turns out I might have increased memory performance! That will serve me well until that risk of Alzheimer’s kicks in.


Header image courtesy By Zephyris at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,