by Sheila Gaspers

My exposure to the world of research science has been somewhat limited in my travels. But even as a novice, I keep an open mind. As I explore the world, I am always amazed and awestruck by nature’s majestic and mysterious beauty. In those moments, I find myself philosophizing about the meaning of life and questioning and contemplating the “Connection”.

One is Many…Many is One.

There is something that ties us to the world and to each other.

The answer became a bit clearer to me after a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 2006. Through the help of naturalist guides, I was able to better understand the power of nature. I saw a marvelous mix of animal species, now evolved through natural selection, that were Darwin’s inspiration for his research and life work.

Since that special trip, with the exception of the occasional documentary or science article touting a new find, I have let my science cravings and curiosity settle in the far corners of my mind.

It took a television show to stir up my cranial cobwebs.

The acclaimed PBS series Finding Your Roots hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. renewed my interest in the origin of species – or more specifically, the origin of the human species and family genealogy. That interest would lead me to 23andMe, a scientific company based in Silicon Valley, specializing in genetic research and DNA testing.

The company takes its name from science.

Humans have 46 chromosomes – essentially 23 pairs with nearly 20,000 genes.

Hence, 23andMe… the perfect moniker for a genetic research company.

The company offers a web-based Personal Genome Service that allows individuals to explore to gain deeper insight into their ancestry and inherited traits.

Think Darwin’s research but a million times more intriguing.

Check out 23andMe animated video clips for a few quick science lessons:

What Are Genes?

Human Pre-History 101

23andMe makes DNA testing Accessible, Affordable and Easy.

It is a simple process: Survey – Spit – Send

Register your kit online, complete an online survey, generate a saliva or spit sample, return kit to the 23andMe headquarters… and you are only a few weeks away from experiencing the magic of science.

Special Note: Allow 20-30 minutes for the survey. Be forewarned, there are some quirky questions. Some may even require a friend’s feedback or a handy mirror. Examples: What is the longest finger on your hand? Identify the shape of your nose?

I could not contain my excitement after sending off my sample. I felt a rush just thinking about the secrets locked in my genetic code. Who and what would I discover on this journey?

In less than ten days, I received communication from the 23andMe team. The results were in.

As directed, I logged into my account online. I was given the option to participate in ongoing research studies before continuing to my custom genome profile pages. I declined for obvious reasons. Given the concerns of future insurance restrictions/denials related to genetic health findings, I thought it was best.

In true Type A form, I raced through the layers of online report data looking for the juicy stuff.

My biggest revelation turned out to be my ancestry. I knew I was European – a first generation, Irish/Italian American. But had no clue there was some Nordic blood in the family lines. My 79 year old Irish mom was quick to explain that the fierce and feisty Vikings that invaded Ireland are to blame. I smiled and laughed at the remark but did not discount it’s historical probability. I also made sure I bragged my new found roots to my good friend Claire who has held her Norwegian ancestry in high regard.

I dug deeper and deeper into the reports. I discovered I had a propensity for Alzheimer’s but also learned that I was not at strong risk for Breast Cancer. I found all the genetic related reports to be enlightening. I do not view the health reports as good or bad news. For me, the health findings based on solid genetic research are a wake up call – great preventative information to keep me focused on a healthy lifestyle.

The 23andMe service and website is robust and promises to keep you engaged for hours. There is a Relative Finder tool that will allow you to find and connect with living relatives from around the globe. The Ancestry Painting tool will trace back your origins to early times following the history of man. The Inheritance Calculator offers a glimpse of the future. Explore traits like eye color, hair texture and muscle performance.

I must admit, my hope of becoming a world class sprinter was crushed when I learned that I lacked the muscle performance gene – ACTN3. But I did learn, I have genes that give me a great head of hair and a body type that is likely to stay fit and trim. GENETIC GOLD! That beats an Olympic Medal any day.

Share the Genetic Love!

The 23andMe kit makes the perfect gift for a loved one.

Cost for kit, online profile reports & updates: $299

International Shipping Available.

Visit 23andMe online to learn more.