23 and me – yes, me – part 1

Until recently, I was not even aware that there is a DNA day. Nor can I tell you exactly when and where I noticed that 23andMe, the personal genomics company, launched a sale to celebrate the day – I imagine it flashed by on Twitter or FriendFeed. I can tell you that like many others I decided that finally, I could justify the expense, signed up (with around 15 minutes to spare – thanks to the 17 hour Sydney/California time difference) and I’m now waiting for sample arrival and processing.

I thought it might be interesting to blog the experience and provided that I don’t discover anything disturbing, I’ll share some of my data here. Related posts will be tagged with “23andme” and here is part 1 which covers sign-up, delivery, sample collection and return.

1. Why?
Ego? Curiosity? Why not? I think many of us are fascinated by the idea that, to an extent, we live in an age where we can know something of our own genetics. As someone who has never had a strong sense of roots or “belonging”, coming from a small town where neither of my parents were born, I find ancestry particularly interesting. Although, I’ll be surprised if I’m anything other than a Caucasian male from north-west Europe. I’m also fortunate in having sufficient science education to be critical of whatever results emerge – I know, for example, the limitations of GWAS and I’m aware that my phenotype is a combination of environment and genetics, to varying degrees.

That, and the sale price was very reasonable.

2. April 25 – signing up


Tracking the delivery

Signing up for the service is the same as ordering anything via the web: name, address, credit card number and press “submit”. The website is well-designed, providing you with a printable confirmation of your order and an email notification. A notification is also sent when your order ships, with the ship date and a courier tracking number.

3. May 11 – delivery
My kit left California on May 6 and arrived on my front doorstep May 11. That included a minor clearance delay (no idea why) and a weekend (nothing gets delivered in Australia on a weekend). When I say “front doorstep” I’m being quite literal – FedEx seem confident that the crime rate is low enough in my suburb of Sydney to leave deliveries outside the house.

23andme kit

What\’s in the box?

My FedEx box contains (1) a box containing the sample collection kit and instructions and (2) everything required to return the sample via FedEx: envelope, airway bill, customs invoice (make 3 copies) and adhesive document pouch for the envelope.
You claim your kit through the 23andMe website, using a claim code printed on the kit box. During the claim process, you can opt in to the banking of your sample, allowing further analysis as it becomes available in the future. That was the only step in the process which made me think for a minute, but I opted to do so.

4. May 13 – sample collection and return


Some spit, yesterday

Attached to the collection tube is a funnel, containing a buffer solution behind a plastic seal. You simply spit into the tube until your saliva reaches the fill line, snap the funnel closed to release the buffer, replace funnel with a tightly-fitting cap and mix. Most people, say the instructions, require 2-5 minutes to fill the tube. Already I suspect that I have a genetic defect – in saliva production – but I got there eventually.

Tube into sample bag, sample bag into envelope, documentation into envelope pouch and off you go, to your nearest FedEx outlet. Now, here’s a tip if you’re in Sydney. Our city is littered with dubious-looking “businesses”, many of which seem to consist of a shop front, a single proprietor, an almost-empty shop and a poster proclaiming to offer all manner of services, which may include “FedEx authorised shipping centre”. So far as I can tell, these places provide a haven where people can spend their day reading the newspaper, enjoying a small business tax break and telling potential “customers” to go away. Having made that mistake, I took my package to the local FedEx depot and saw it safely on its way.

Stay tuned for “sample arrival”, “sample processing” and of course, “results”, when I imagine these blog posts will become far more interesting.

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