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23andMe: The start of my personal genomics journey

Since starting work at The Genome Analysis Centre nearly three years ago now, I’ve become increasingly interested in the prospects of personal genomics. It also helps when you have a supervisor who is well known for sequencing themself, their family, and their poo. Recently this area of science has become heavily debated, especially since the 2013 FDA ruling on Californian company 23andMe, Ltd., that their health service was in violation of FDA policy and had to close in the US.

Power of One info-graphic from
Power of One info-graphic from

This however has not stopped 23andMe, who still offer their health service to existing customers and ancestry service in the US to new customers. Furthermore, it appears to actually have driven their expansion overseas.

Internet access required.

Three weeks ago (30th March 2015) 23andMe made a bold and world first move. Teaming up with high-street retailer Superdrug to sell their personal genome service over-the-counter at more than 600 of their stores across Britain. This made me decide it was time to splash out the £125 to buy myself a kit. As after-all, it is likely now the most convenient personal genomics service available. When you can purchase it from your local health and beauty store and post it through a standard RoyalMail box to the Netherlands – no waiting for shipment to and from the states with a $100 additional fee. The £125 is still not much less than $200, however, so it is convenience and the retention of the 23andMe Health report that drew me to this.

What's in the 23andMe box.
What’s in the 23andMe box.

Upon entering my local Superdrug it was not long before I spotted a 23andMe poster at the front door and the stand at the back next to the other personal health goods. It was quite exciting and slightly surreal to see the kit in person, not only because of how much 23andMe have clearly put into making a true consumer product. But the thought that a decade ago this kind of technology would still have been toward the forefront of science. I’d also expect the web service would have been considered even more revolutionary at the time. Although I would have to agree with the cashier who exclaimed, “Jesus, that’s expensive”, after rummaging out back for it. Especially given that 30x whole genome coverage will be less than £100 by 2020 if we keep exceeding Moore’s law at our current pace.

Submitting my sample
Submitting my sample.

After returning home with my kit and a hole in my pocket I was excited to finally crack open the kit and get my sample ready to post. I’d like to say they’ve thought hard on idiot proofing the submission process, but from my experience with Next-Generation-Sequencing in the lab I’m sure there is plenty of room for error on both sides. The instructions were reasonably straight forward, with good infographics, and the tube itself has quite a nice design. First you spit in it to the dotted line, then you close the snap-top lid which releases the stabilizing agent for the 2-3 week journey (DNA is pretty good at room temperature anyway) and then you replace the lid with a screw-cap to secure your sample. After 10 minutes (+30 min not eating/drinking) and plenty of drool, my sample was ready to go.

My sample, ready to go.
My sample, ready to go.

The only thing which remained now was to put the biohazard marked bag back into the kit’s box and take it round the corner to my local postbox; postage was already prepaid and the address labeled on the box. Once in the box, I completed my online registration and spent a while marveling at the 23andMe online community (pretty much a facebook for finding your haplotype) and answering some standard and not so standard preliminary questions about my medical history and day to day life, e.g. have I ever dislocated my shoulder or when I clasp my hands which thumb is on top?

Registration completed, now I just have to wait 4-6 weeks.
Registration completed, now I just have to wait 4-6 weeks.

Now all that is left for me to do is wait 2-3 weeks for confirmation that my sample has arrived and then a further few weeks until the lab has processed my samples.

Published in23andmeGenomics

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