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BLOG: October 2008

Ready to meet your DNA in person?

Ever been curious as to how good your genes actually are? That mysterious DNA code hidden deep in your cells that determines what do you look like, how efficient are your basic body functions, and how smart you are? Until now, having anything but very limited in scope genetic tests - parental, ancestry or familial relations - was reserved for those with deep pockets, or those (un)lucky enough who had more comprehensive DNA test paid by their medical insurance.

But things have changed. With the new 23andMe test technology came the price for a detailed personal DNA test within the reach of most folks. For $399, now you can have a snapshot of as many as 600,000 genetic markers revealing to you what no doctor could tell you. A small sample of new information about your body revealed by this saliva test includes:

your risk level for developing over 90 conditions, including skin, breast or lung cancer, most common forms of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, gallstones, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, uterine fibroids, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, gluten intolerance, lumbar disk disease caused lower back pain, glaucoma, asthma, and so on

HDL ("good") cholesterol, and CRP (C-reactive protein, internal inflammation marker, indicator of the cardiovascular and other diseases risk) level

your risk of becoming alcoholic

nonverbal IQ level

resistance (yes/no) to malaria or AIDS

your caffeine metabolism efficiency

short-term memory function

your odds of living to 100, and so on.

For starters, genetic marker is an identifiable sequence of genetic material, in the sense that it does vary from one individual to another. It can be a gene, or a portion of it, or simply a sequence of DNA's nucleic acids. There is practically unlimited number of genetic markers that can be selected.

With the excitement of coming step closer of finally be able to see that very core of your body, a few cautionary notes. First off, selection and interpretation of genetic markers is not an exact science yet; it is a complex, and complicated process, often times to some extent partial, or arbitrary.

Second, even assuming exact selection/interpretation, the genes are not a lone factor determining your risk of developing certain disease. Your actual risk is significantly influenced by your nutritional status, exposure levels to toxins, stress and trauma, lifestyle and emotional state.

Furthermore, genes or genetic sequences alone are not the only determinant of the efficiency or characteristics of genetic function. Whether or not they will function or not, and how efficiently, as directly dependant on body's epigenetic function (gene expression), effectively turning the genes on and off. At this point, it is a matter of speculation as to how efficiently 23andMe - and other commercial genetic tests - can track and grasp this dimension of body's genetic function.

That said, having personal genetic test - even with the above limitations - within the reach of ordinary people is a crucial, although still informal step in elevating personal healthcare to another level: away from the guesswork of symptom-treating medicine, and closer to the real thing: a medicine looking for the cause of diseases, with the goal of actually healing, as opposed to life-long dependence on often toxic medications.