12 things I learned from my 23andMe results

Just before Christmas, I spat into a plastic tube and sent it to 23andMe: a genetic testing company in California.

23andMe Logo

 

23andMe tests one million SNPs (minor changes) in a person’s genome, many of which are linked with known, inherited traits. Their results reveal a wealth of information about your health and ancestry, ranging from eye colour and bitter taste perception to the presence of major genetic diseases and your extended family tree. Meaningful results are then sent to you by email within a few weeks.

All this is priced well-below cost, at just $99 plus shipping. It was totally worth it. Here’s a list of the 12 most interesting things that 23andMe revealed about me.

1. No carrier status

Fortunately, I carry none of the 48 diseases for which 23andMe tests. That’s good news! None of these diseases will affect me, nor will they be passed on to my children.

2. HIV-resistance: CCR5 +/Δ32

This is awesome—I carry one copy of the HIV-resistance allele! A very small percentage of people are lucky enough to have this allele. The virus which heterosexual, monogamous vegans almost never encounter just got even harder to get.

3. Can’t taste bitter: TAS2R38 -/-

The TAS2R38 gene encodes the receptor that detects PROP and related bitter plant compounds. I have a relatively common mutation that is insensitive to PROP. My version of this gene improves the taste of bitter foods—including poisonous ones.

4. Can digest lactose: MCM6 +/+ (regulates LCT)

I don’t like milk, but at least I can digest it. I have two fully-funcional copies of the lactase enzyme, and both will remain active throughout adulthood.

5. Slow caffeine metabolism: CYP1A2.

Caffeine is primarily metabolized by the liver enzyme cytochrome P450 1A2. My version of this enzyme metabolises caffeine slowly (just like 99% of people). I learned that I’m not one of the 1% of people who are virtually insensitive to caffeine.

6. Ancestry

British and Irish: 67.6%; French and German: 5.8% (4 gen); Scandinavian: 0.1% (10 gen); Northern European: 24.0% (2 gen); Southern European: 1.2% (6 gen); Other European: 1.1% (7 gen); Middle Eastern/North African: 0.1% (10 gen); unknown: 0.1%.

James Kennedy ancestry results
Click to enlarge.

I calculated generations by taking the percentages, log base 2 and multiplying by -1.

Most of my ancestors were from “Britain/Ireland”, or “North Europe”, which includes Britain and Ireland. But interestingly, there was a little more diversity than I expected. one of my (great-?)great-grandparents was either French or German (see number 11). Six generations ago, there was someone from South Europe in the family. Ten generations ago, there was one person from Scandinavia, and one person from the Middle East or North Africa.

7. My blood group: A Rh(-) Di(a-b+) K-k+ Kp(a-b+) Jk(a+b+)

I already knew my blood group, but it was interesting to learn that blood groups are a complicated business. For everyday purposes, though, I’m an A-negative.

8. 3.1% Neanderthal DNA (very high)

Neanderthals looked like caricatures of Celts: white, brutish, red-haired and freckled. The average Caucasian has 2.5% neanderthal DNA, and I have 3.1%, putting me in the 98th percentile. It means that I’m “whiter” than most white people.

9. Maternal haplotype: H3 (Western Europe)

H3 is a minority European haplotype found in Western Europe. (Most natives are H1 haplotype.) Over the last 10,000 years, H3 declined in Europe due to random genetic drift, but remains prevalent today in the Basque region (probably because they mixed less frequently with outsiders). There’s almost no phenotypic difference between H1 and H3, so until further research is done, this is merely an interesting fact.

Maternal haplotype H3 map
Maternal haplotype H3 map
10. Paternal haplotype: R1b1b2a1a2f2 (Ireland)

Obviously. My paternal family is Irish and my paternal haplotype proves it. R1b1b2a1a2f2 is distinctively Irish.

11. One arm of Ch1 is entirely French/German

This is very interesting. I’m British, so while having a little French/German DNA is normal, having it all on one arm of one chromosome indicates that it probably all came from one, recent ancestor (no more than 4 generations ago). Given that French/German DNA is unique in going mostly undetected using 23andMe’s testing methods, and that the possibility of inheriting an entire chromosomal arm halves with each generation, this French/German ancestor was probably a great-grandparent. I didn’t know this.

James Kennedy French/German DNA
My French/German DNA (dark blue) is mostly on one chromosome.
12. Eight chromosomes contain one arm with no British/Irish DNA at all.

Chromosomes 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 18, 20, and 22 contain one arm with no British/Irish DNA at all, and one arm with almost 100% British/Irish DNA. Given that one arm is inherited from each parent, this indicates that either I (or each of my parents) had one parent who was purely British/Irish, and one who was a more mixed “Northern European”.

James Kennedy's British/Irish DNA from 23andMe
Eight chromosomes have one arm with no British/Irish DNA (dark blue) at all. This indicates one recent family member of mixed, Northern European origin, not just from Britain and Ireland.

Additionally, 23andMe found 833 distant cousins who have also had their DNA tested. I share great-great-grandparents with the closest of these cousins, but none of them have surnames that I recognise. Some of them live in Wales, but that’s probably just a coincidence. The process of trying to link the family trees, if I do it, would be a long one.

I wanted to do this years ago, but it used to be too expensive: $999 plus a monthly subscription (whatever for?) The price then dropped to $499, $299 then $249 (last year), before finally hitting $99 before Christmas 2012—without any monthly fees. That final price drop prompted me (and nearly a million others) to buy the test.

I highly recommend 23andMe. The data arrives little by little, so there’s something to look into (and reference papers to read) each day. Anyone interested in their own health or ancestry should give it a go.

59 thoughts on “12 things I learned from my 23andMe results

  1. Hey very thorough post! I, too, was waiting for the price to drop… I saw the benefit even when it was $300 but couldn’t bring myself to fork over the cash. I ordered my kit last night and thought I’d do what most bloggers would do and blog about it. I’m looking forward to it!

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    1. I don’t know how much you understand about biology, but most of the health results are bunk. In most cases, there’s no need to get worried if the odds of getting a disease are higher than the average. Behaviour is a massive factor that 23andMe hardly considers at all (except in the smoking, breastfeeding and coffee-related results). Enjoy!🙂

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      1. Hey thanks for the heads up about my site being down… Not sure what was going on but it seems to be working now.
        I’m still waiting on the results from 23andme. I’m looking forward to it. I know not to panic when it comes to viewing the results. Even if my risk of getting some disease is tripled, it still could mean that my risk is 0.3% when the general population has a 0.1% risk, which isn’t something i’ll lose sleep over.🙂

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      2. Exactly! I look forward to hearing what you think when you get the results. Since I made my results public on 23andMe, I’ve been getting messages saying “hello, I’m your very distant cousin, could you please help me complete my grandfather’s family tree?” followed by a list of names I’ve never heard of. You’ll have that to look forward to soon, and might even discover some extended family in the process!

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  2. Having 800 odd distant cousins seems pretty amazing, I was thinking of doing this test but then the genographic project caught my attention so I’m deciding which one I should do. Genetics are interesting stuff!

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    1. I studied genetics at university and can tell you that the genographic project looks inferior to 23andMe in every way—including price! I suggest 23andMe (and no, I have absolutely no connection to anyone in the genetics industry)

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    2. On further inspection, the genographic project looks a bit like a scam… 23andMe gives you a better service with concise descriptions on a simpler website, while the genographic project gives you inferior results with over-elaborate descriptions. 100% 23andMe!

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      1. Long shot, but I noted our ancestors percentages are nearly the same. My grandmother was a Kennedy, but we have been in the US for hundreds of years. If you ever notice any kin Northeast Texas let me know. Thanks an nice meeting you. Max Shumake

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  3. James – do you want to send me some of the names you have received from distant cousins? If they are related from the same great-grandparents I may recognise some of the names from your dad’s family tree. It may also give me some hints towards information i am missing and help with some of the dead ends I have been coming up against.

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  4. Wow – this is amazing.

    I’ve heard of 23andme before but hadn’t really considered using it until I read this.

    HIV-resistance? Slow caffeine metabolism? It’s crazy that you can now know that!

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    1. Yes! Those results are the most interesting. However, I studied genetics and I know to take the “genetic disease risks” with a massive pinch of salt. Our lifestyles are still by far the biggest predictors of health or disease.

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  5. Hey James,
    I just got my results from 23andme. I am confused about the chromosome tool. Does each chromosome represent both parents? How does one know which line represents which parent? I know the question probably sounds completely ignorant but I am when it comes to this new hobby.
    Thanks,
    Larry

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    1. You have 23 pairs of chromosomes (total of 46). One chromosome of each pair is from your mother, while the other is from your father (total of 23 from each parent). To tell which chromosome came from which parent, you’d have to test both parents’ DNA and then do some further computational analysis. If you’re looking for, say, the maternal chromosome in the chromosome tool, it could be the top one of pair #1, then the bottom one of pair #2, then the top one of pair #3… it’s random.

      I studied Biology at undergraduate and did a lot more analysis than most people when I was using the “chromosome tool”.

      If you like, share your ancestry data with me (not the health stuff) and I’ll see what I can interpret from it.

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  6. Forgive the dumbness, but could you clarify this? “I calculated generations by taking the percentages, log base 2 and multiplying by -1.” It’s been a long time (40 years) since I used any math other than basic math. I’d like to calculate the generations on my profile. Thanks!

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    1. If you’re 12.5% Indian, for example, put this into Excel:

      =LOG(0.125,2)*(-1)
      The result is “3”, which tells you that someone 3 generations ago was pure Indian.

      If you get a decimal, e.g. 3.5, then there was probably more than one person *of different generations* in your family with that ethnicity. (For example, one paternal grandparent and one maternal great-great-grandparent.)

      Change the “0.125” in the formula to reflect the percentage you want to look up. “3%” should be “0.03”, and so on.

      I hope this helps.

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  7. I’ve been wanting to try this for sometime now and I’m finding nothing but positive reviews.. I’m especially interested in the Ancestry part of the results.. I think I will order my kit this week…

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  8. Are you worried that the company could use your results against you some day? Maybe turn you down for insurance due to a test result?

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  9. Hi James, I did the 23andme test and have spent hours on trying to figure out what it all means and still don’t feel I’ve made much progress. Am I able to send my results to you and have you help me out? I’d be glad to pay you for it. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Dawn, I’d be pleased to do that for you. I can generate a report similar to what I’ve posted here regarding my own results. Bear in mind that only the ancestry results and the traits can be interpreted—the health stuff (e.g. probability of getting diabetes, etc) is extremely speculative. I’ll do it for a small fee. Email me (link at the top of this page). James🙂

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  10. Hi James: Thank you for the informative article. I love 23andme ! Yet, I have explored my 23andme account and cannot figure out how to view those blue bars of French/German DNA on the arms of chromosomes as you descripted in items 11 and 12 above. Could you please tell me how you did this ? I would greatly appreciate it.
    SLM

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  11. Hi, I just found your 23andme results via reddit. My name is Jaimie Kennedy or Davenport now that I am married. I recently got my 23andme health results and thought it was funny to see the male version of my name pop up. I am still trying to interpret everything, but slowly pieceing stuff together, I haven’t got my ancestry results yet, I ordered my kit ages ago, so I was still able to get the health results. Kinda funny to find you. :O) I am from the US living in Texas, but from California. Hope you are well! Off to check out your site. :O)

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  12. OK…looks like I’m O-neg (which I already knew) and H3 (which is news to me, and had never heard of this before 23andMe) and I’m mostly British & Irish, with a little French & German. Very cool, because I was adopted in 1948 and know very little about my birth & adoption. My adopted younger sister gave me the kit for my birthday. (she is also looking for answers about her birth parents) I sent to Austin TX for my adoption records in 1993, but TX records are closed, so they sent me a packet of papers with every name & place cut out (an non ID) so that’s a bummer. However, in reading through the papers, I was able to figure out a few things. My birth mother went through the Children’s Aid Society of West Texas in Wichita Falls TX. They helped her buy a bus ticket and placed her in the Rest Cottage, A Home For The Unwed Mother & Her Child in Pilot Point TX, where she gave birth to me 8-10-48. I was adopted by Kathryn Ann & David C. Black & raised in Wichita Falls. I moved to Omaha NE in 1969, then to Marquette NE 4 yrs ago. My birth mother was born April 13, 1917, she was 31 when she gave birth to me, and my birth father was 38. She was an “office worker & secretary” and birth father was a “businessman” (sounds like an office romance). She had 3 brothers & 1 sister. Her mother & father lived on a ranch 18 miles (some direction that was cut out) from Wichita Falls. Handwritten underneath this was: 2nd child – gone 1st one to agency in (cut out) or (cut out) * This indicates to me that I was the second child she gave up for adoption. On the father’s side of the paper, it says “some brothers & sisters unknow amount”. The only other tidbit I have: my adoptive mother once told me that my birth mother’s last name might be Gryder or Grider…but, I do not know if this is true. I am now 66, married 41 yrs, have 3 grown married children & 8 grandchildren. I doubt my birth parents are still living, but my children & I would really like to know about my background & heritage.

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  13. I saw that Kennedy is one of the top surnames for my relatives on 23andMe. I was interested in seeing if I’m related to the Kennedy family here in America so I Googled it and found your article. Right afterwards I checked my 23andMe report. Hi, I’m your 3rd-to-distant cousin, whatever that means.

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      1. I don’t have very close relatives from Europe – great-great-grandparents from Ireland and Germany, and great-grandparents from Poland and Lithuania. I have a lot of matches from Ireland and UK especially, although that’s probably because those countries are more likely to use 23andMe.

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  14. You realize that you just paid to give your genetic information to a company that’s going to sell your data, right? Do your research.

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      1. If you subscribe to 23andMe’s newsletters, which I do, you’d realise that they’re REALLY scraping the barrel to get any “meaningful” data from the huge amount of genetic information that they’ve obtained. Their last “discovery” was a collection of 35 candidate genes that “might” be connected to motion sickness. Wow.

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  15. Having more than the average Neanderthal DNA doesn’t mean you’re “whiter”. For instance, I believe East Asians have on average higher percentages than Europeans.

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    1. Actually, Europeans and people of Middle Eastern decent have the highest concentrations of Neanderthal DNA, Asians are speculated to be closer to the Homo Erectus.

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      1. Chinese anthropologists seem to think that modern humans evolved in China independently of those in the rest of the world. Given that we are now the same species, this seems improbable to me.

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  16. Would this dna test tell me if i am a carrier of a rare genetic condition which my grandaughter has non ketotic hypoglycimia nkh for short only 500 hundred children in the world have this non curable/terminal regards sue

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  17. Thanks for sharing your 23andme results, James. One thing that’s interesting is that you and I both have a tiny, wee North African segment at the *exact* same spot on the top bar of Chromosome 6. On my 23andme results, this small segment disappears when set to the Conservative calculator, which tells me it’s nothing but “statistical noise”. I mention this because I have seen others like us with exclusively Northern/Western European ancestry who have this same tiny speck of North African segment on the exact same spot on Chromosome 6. Not sure what this is about!

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  18. I have recently gotten results back from my 23andme test. Two of my relatives show their paternal Haplogroup being R1b1b2a1a. One ends in d* and the other ends in c. We came from Britian and Ireland, with lots of other mixes. Do all the letters and numbers indicate British and Irish decent?

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  19. Hi James

    I am from Southern England, had my Test done in Dec 2015/ my two children waiting for the Y Chromosome from my Boy with his Fathers data.
    Some interesting finds on the data.
    I am 100% European.. 71% English/ Irish mainly.
    1.2%Scandinavian /Dutch/Danish. French/ German the rest..My daughter alarmingly has 0.1% Yakut which is Siberian/Russian, from her Father’s side..on Chromosome 6 wonder how far back that would be PLEASE advise? Orange blot on C6..

    My MtDNA is U3a1 am told this is a rare haplogroup. Do you know anything about this Group?
    Cheers!
    Dawn Richardson UK

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  20. Hi James
    The 23&me report does not define the difference between Irish English Scots Welsh.. They lump us all together and call us British.. Well I am 70.5% overall although Paternal side Irish completely..Celtic, have a few Kennedy’s on my page too.. Paternal side Lafferty or variants of the name. O’Laverty.
    My daughter has 0.1% Yakut/Siberian/Russian from her Father’S DNA..blot of Orange on C6.. East Aisia…Can you advise how far back that would be please? Suprise to us?

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  21. Hi James!

    Very interesting results, you say 833 of your distant cousins had their DNA tested. Does the website provide you with their contact information?

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  22. Be part of an important study on the genetics of sexual orientation
    • Have you had your DNA analyzed by 23andMe?
    • Are you 18 years or older?
    • Are you sexually active, or have you been in the past?
    If you answered YES to these questions, you are eligible to participate in a study on sexual orientation.
    The purpose of this research study is to understand how genetics may influence people’s personalities and sexual orientation. If you take part in this online study, we will instruct you how to find your genetic data file on your 23andMe account and upload it to our secure website. We will also ask you to complete a series of questionnaires on your personality and sexual behavior.
    Time required to complete the study should be about 15-25 minutes.
    Anyone 18 years or older who has been sexually active and has had a 23andMe analysis is eligible to participate, regardless of sexual orientation.
    Please follow this link to begin the study:
    https://pennstate.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_e5Vi2kF7dFeGGr3
    This study is being conducted by the Department of Anthropology at Penn State University, 409 Carpenter Building, University Park, PA.

    Please contact the study coordinator Heather Self (hls5216@psu.edu) or the principal investigator David Puts (dap27@psu.edu) for further information.

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  23. I am English from the Lancashire/ Yorkshire border. I am interested in the history of the Anglo Saxons and ask if the DNA test ( 23&me) will give me an indication of my Anglo Saxon/ Celtic heritage.

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  24. James, kudos for posting your dna data online and discussing publicly. I have just recieved my results and i have fairly similar percentages to you.
    99.9% European
    Northwestern European
    39.3% British & Irish
    19.4% Scandinavian
    5.6% French & German
    33.9% Broadly Northwestern European

    Southern European
    0.8% Broadly Southern European
    1.0% Broadly European

    0.1% East Asian & Native American

    My question is how can i learn a bit more about understanding the chromosone breakdown? For example in your initial post you mention your suprise at your German ancestry in C1. I also have full French/German in C13 & C17 arms – how can i learn a bit more about this? Thanks for your time in advance, Richard

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  25. Hi James, re: independent evolution of the Chinese from Homo Erectus…There’s an interesting current BBC documentary “The Incredible Human Journey” which addresses this story and explains how it’s been completely debunked. A large random study of hundreds of Chinese from all ethnic groups show they are all traced back to the same small group that left Africa around 80,000 years ago.

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