23 And Really Me

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Scott R. Kline

Some things in the world are so inconceivable to me that they seem like miracles. One of them is a flash drive, a small device weighing about an ounce that can hold my entire life’s work, along with every movie I’ve ever seen. I have tried to understand how it works, but with no success. The other thing I cannot grasp is DNA and how, from a tiny smidgeon of saliva or blood, a person’s entire makeup can be uncovered.

Recently, I had a need to find out more about my genetic profile. I ordered a kit from 23andMe and, like waiting for a game ordered from the back of a magazine when I was a child, I eagerly checked the mail each day until, to my delight, the small box arrived. I unpacked the contents, carefully read the directions, opened the small plastic vial and spent 30 minutes getting enough spit to hit the “fill” line. I sealed the return package and dropped it in the mail, already anticipating the results.

23andMe kept me in the loop with emails, and a day ahead of schedule the results of my spit came in. The results are broken into several categories: Ancestry, Health Predisposition, DNA Relatives, Wellness, Carrier Status and Traits.

I first went to Carrier Status—since that is why I took the test—and found that of the 40 diseases and conditions tested, I had no genetic mutations for any of them. I was a bit disappointed, really, since genetic mutations might help explain some family issues. But “variant not detected” came up for each and every one of them.

In the Health Predisposition section, the two items that made me pause were “Late Onset Alzheimer’s Disease” and “Parkinson’s Disease.” I knew that knowing that I had either of these two predispositions would only add to the constant anxiety that I live with on a daily basis. The system asked me several times if I really wanted to see the results and then made me watch a short tutorial about the subject. I steeled myself, clicked yes, yes, yes and quickly found out that I was in the clear. I did find that I have a predisposition for Hereditary Thrombophilia or blood clots. Good to know.

Next, I went to Wellness, where it accurately told me that I consume more coffee than average and that I weigh a bit under the average. Both true. It said that I had the muscle composition for an elite power athlete, so I knew then that the test was fallible, though I did think for a minute about trying out for the 49ers. I’m sure they put that in there to make me feel good about myself.

The Traits section was fascinating. Of the 30 predicted traits, all but three were correct. Blue eyes, no balding, not afraid of heights, a dislike of cilantro (really), among other things. It wrongly stated my wake-up time as 6:42AM. I think they meant that’s the time I’m likely to get up to pee before going back to sleep for a couple of hours.

There were no surprises under the Ancestry part, though in doing some easy research on my paternal haplogroup (Y chromosome history), it stunned me that it correctly stated that my forefathers were from the Middle East 1,500 to 2,500 years ago, that we are Jewish and that we are from the tribe of Levi. What is fascinating about this is that the Levi designation is verbally handed down from father to son. My father explained to me that we were Levis when I was young, just as I did to my two sons, but who really knew if that was true? Confirmation through my DNA meant that it has been handed down, uninterrupted, for some 100 generations.

An especially fun part is seeing your DNA Relatives. Mine said that Shelley G was my sister. Yep. I called her, and she said that she had indeed taken the test several years ago. I found several cousins of whom I was not aware, but that’s another story.

As fascinating an experience as it was for me to learn about my DNA, it was clear that many things could have been terribly disturbing. But learning that so much of who I am was predetermined through my chromosomes was a profound glimpse into the reality and nature of man. It also connected me in a powerful way to the underlying nature of my essence and to the generations of my family that have led to me being here today.

Isn’t all that amazing from a little bit of saliva?