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We Are All Connected: My DNA Journey

UPDATE 5/11/2014
Saw this article today and did some investigation.
A variant of the gene KLOTHO (KL) is known for its anti-aging effects in people fortunate enough to carry one copy. Now researchers find that it also has benefits when it comes to brain function. The variant appears to lend beneficial cognitive effects by increasing overall levels of klotho in the bloodstream and brain.” Also, Klotho (KL) is generally considered to be a tumor suppressor gene in breast and pancreatic cancers.

Turns out I have the variant. I would never had known that had I not been able to login to 23andMe and discover that I had it. Cool, heh?

Three years or so ago National Geographic produced a fascinating show called The Human Family Tree as part of its Genographic Project. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, but it was the first show like this I’d watched that told real stories about the amazing connectedness of humans. It also had surprises in it that obviously changed the worldview of some of its partcipants!

That show was a big deal to me since it was the first spark of my internal fire to learn more about DNA and my own family tree.

23andme-kitAfter this show I became very intrigued by the work going on at 23andMe. At the time, the ‘swab’ kit (for sending in your DNA) cost $499 so I decided against it at the moment. In the fall of 2011 they dropped the price to $99 so I signed up.

It was fun to see the results but the key with 23andMe is that the participants have to answer survey questions…over-and-over-and-over again. I’m willing to do it since I benefit from other people doing the same, but it did become a daunting task after awhile. Still, I was able to see what others in my maternal/paternal haplogroups suffered from so I have at least an idea of what sorts of illnesses I’m prone to having.

I’ve also connected with 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. One woman who is a 3rd cousin, for example, connected with me and she lives in California. I looked at her profile and, in a long list of surnames she was connected to, was the surname of my maternal grandmother’s parents! So my great grandfather’s family in Norway had a male who, um, ‘connected’ with a woman in her lineage and passed on that familial DNA. Cool. 

By the way, 23and Me had the FDA crackdown on their providing health information so they’ve stopped. Mainly it was due to the fact that the health conclusions were only as good as the number of participants, not exactly a scientifically sound dataset. Now there is a notice on their website that says, “23andMe provides ancestry-related genetic reports and uninterpreted raw genetic data. We no longer offer our health-related genetic reports. If you are a current customer please go to the health page for more information.

But the project is SO cool—and the kit is still only $99—that you should do it. If nothing else but the connection to others with whom you share DNA, or for the ancestry connecting you can do.

The continuation of my journey with DNA is a learning one. Participating in the 23andMe adventure has caused me to read, talk to smart people who know DNA (like Lynn Fellman!), and learn what I can about the state-of-the-art. It’s been completely worth the time, cost, energy and effort and it will only get more fun as the science grows.

If you would care to watch the video that sparked my tangential DNA exploration, and see for yourself the incredible stories of connectedness in The Human Family Tree, you can watch it below:

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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