Roman Malanke

Welcome to Me with 23andme

Some six weeks overdue but my 23andme genetic test results finally arrived! I got the long-awaited email early on Sunday morning, right before leaving for the soccer game. Of course, I couldn’t resist and opened the reports right away. What I saw inside surprised me a great deal, as it was not at all what I expected to see… But before I tell you what I learned about myself from the reports, let me explain what 23andme is, for those of you who haven't heard about it.

23andme is a private company that helps individuals decipher their DNA and make some sense out of it. You pay $150-200 and get a small kit in the mail with a little plastic container. You spit into the container, seal it, and send it back. In their genetic labs, 23andme extracts your DNA data from your saliva and then runs some tests and analysis on it to determine your ancestry, genetic health conditions, and physical traits. 8 weeks later (14 in my case!) you get a set of colorful reports that show you all those insights about yourself. On the website you can also connect with your relatives and friends to see your genetic similarities, as well as discover new relatives among other 23andme users. In addition to selling the reports to the end users, 23andme also claims to be doing research based on user-provided data to advance the genetic science as well as to learn more about genetically-passed diseases. I’m guessing they also are monetizing all that data in some other ways, like selling it to pharma companies, but I didn’t look into that deeply enough to comment for sure. What I do know is that I had to click a whole bunch of “user consent” checkboxes to leverage the functionality to the fullest.

My wife and I learned about 23andme from a friend last fall. Few months later my wife got a kit as a birthday present from friends and then gifted one to me for Christmas. So by the time I was expecting my results several of the people I know already got theirs. All of those people learned something interesting or surprising about themselves, or got proofs on what they already knew. For example, my wife, whose great great grandmother was Austrian, saw a corresponding amount of that particular ancestry in her results.

In my case, I was expecting to see a clean 50/50 split between Eastern European and Southern European ancestry, as my mom comes from Ukraine and my dad comes from Romania. But as it turned out, I’m not nearly as much Ukrainian in my genes as I thought! In fact, it seems that my dad’s genes got a glorious victory in that genetic game. All in all my ancestry breakdown came out as follows:

  • 60.3% Southern European (29.9% Balkan, 13.6% Italian, 16.8% broadly Southern Europe)
  • 14.4% Middle Eastern (Turkey? Lebanon? Iran? Armenia? this is the biggest surprise!)
  • 13.9% Eastern European (this would be the modest Ukrainian piece)
  • 7.4% Broadly European (portion that can’t be attributed to any particular part of Europe)
  • 2.5% Ashkenazi Jewish (another surprise!)
  • 0.6% East Asian (out of which 0.3% is Korean!)
  • 0.2% Northwestern European (out of which 0.1% is Finnish!)

23andme describes this report as their best estimate on where my ancestors lived 500 years ago. So I figure they lived all over the place, but most of them were scattered around the beautiful Mediterranean sea. No wonder all of my vacations in my adult life were to Mediterranean destinations. No wonder I’m such a big fan of Mediterranean food. No wonder I’m in love with Romance languages like Spanish and Italian. I’m even named “Roman” for a reason. This is all in my genes!

Another 23andme report told me that I’m very likely to have dark hair. This is no surprise as both my parents as well as both sets of grand parents all have dark hair. Another one confirmed that hazel or brown is my eye color. Again no surprises, same as all my relatives. I also turned out to be tolerant to lactose and likely to consume more caffeine than average (a relief for a latte macchiato fan!). Luckily, all reports on genetic health conditions came out negative.

But the most curious finding of the whole test was that I turned out to be a distant relative to the guy who told us about 23andme in the first place! We share 0.08% of identical DNA (one segment in chromosome #20, to be scientifically precise!), which probably means that great grandparents of our great grandparents were siblings, some 200 years ago.

So despite the fact that I was getting quite upset with 23andme for the delay and the lousy customer service, after getting my reports, I’m very happy that I did the test. With all the exciting and intriguing info I learned about my ancestry, I’m now very much motivated to continue the genealogical research of my family tree. I will even try to get my dad to pass the test, just to help me be 100% sure which side are all those exotic genes coming from.