Not long ago, Ancestry.com added a new feature to their DNA services, where for an additional $10 they will analyze your existing DNA sample for certain genetic traits. It's not nearly as extensive as that offered by 23andMe, but for $10 I thought it worth checking out.
The verdict? Interesting, of questionable use, somewhat confusing, and mildly amusing. I'm posting our results for the few family members who might be interested, and for anyone else who wonders what the $10 will get you.
Bear in mind that having the gene for a trait does not mean that you actually have that trait, since genetics is complicated! Many different genes may influence the trait, and environment is often a factor as well. As I understand it, current DNA tests can give you a good general picture, but not the whole story. As the site says,
Sometimes your trait doesn't match what your genes say—that's totally normal. Genes don't always tell the whole story.
What the Ancestry.com Traits testing told me I can often confirm—but not always. They hedge their conclusions with "probably" in most cases. I've listed what Ancestry says, followed by my commentary. In some cases this may be more information than you want to know; you have been warned.
- Cleft Chin Yes. I see no evidence thereof. Maybe too small to notice.
- Finger Length Index finger longer than ring finger. Maybe. It's hard to measure, and harder still when fingers are affected by arthritis.
- Earlobe Type Attached. I can confirm that.
- Earwax Type Wet. This one is more complicated than they make out, I'm certain. The two types are "Wet and sticky, yellowish to brown in color)" and "Dry and flaky (gray to tan in color)." Ancestry says, "Dry earwax is common in Asian and Native American populations. Just about everybody else has the wet variety. But in practice, I—with no measurable Asian or Native American ancestry—have primarily what they describe as "dry." But not exclusively: occasionally it's more like the wet, though not sticky, and nothing like that of others I know whose earwax is clearly of the wet-and-sticky variety. So there's a lot more going on here than a single genetic marker.
- Eye Color Light eyes. No surprise there—blue.
- Freckles No freckles. They got this right, too.
- Hair Color Lighter hair. Yep. Not now, but I was blonde as kid. My optometrist confirmed that: I have a blonde fundus. Even Miss Clairol can't fool an eye doctor.
- Hair Type Naturally wavy hair. Where did that come from? My hair is straight as can be. I remember my sister having somewhat wavy hair until her first haircut, so maybe I did then, too. But after that the only waves in my hair came from the painful overnight application of curlers—until my mother gave up on making me into someone who thought it reasonable to endure pain just to conform to society's standards of beauty. :)
- Hair Strand Thickness Average. I suppose so. Never thought about this one much. The gene variant for "thick hair" is "almost nonexistent in people of African and European descent," so when the hairdressers tell me (as they frequently do), "You sure have thick hair!" they must be talking about something else.
- Iris Patterns I should have furrows, crypts, and rings in my irises. I'll take their word for it; I find it hard to tell, though my irises are certainly more complex than I thought.
- Male Hair Loss Low chance of hair loss. Too bad we didn't have sons; I hope our daughters inherited the gene (which their father has, too) and passed it on to their sons.
- Skin Pigmentation Light to medium skin tone. No surprise here.
- Unibrow Yes. Oops, they got that one wrong.
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection No. Well, half right As with the Earwax Type, it's more complicated than it seems. What they say, exactly, is this: your DNA suggests you might not notice a distinctive smell when you pee after eating asparagus. This is correct; I do not. However, they also say the following:
When your body digests asparagus, it produces a chemical called asparagusic acid, which breaks down into compounds that contain sulfur, which is notoriously stinky (think rotten eggs). Some people can smell this in their urine after eating asparagus; others can’t.
Scientists used to think that asparagus caused some people to produce bad-smelling urine, but it turns out that it’s probably not the stench but the ability to smell it that varies. The inability to smell is called “asparagus anosmia.”
I'm inclined to think that the new theory is wrong, since I cannot smell the distinctive odor in my own urine after eating asparagus, and neither can Porter. You might think that the quantities of asparagus eaten make a difference, but even when I eat a lot, we don't notice the smell, and when Porter eats the tiniest amount of asparagus, we both know it! So we can both smell it, but as far as we can tell, only he produces detectable "asparagus pee."
- Bitter Sensitivity No. This is a test for the ability to taste the bitterness in glucosinolates, which are common in vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. This may explain why I don't understand people who have an averson to kale....
- Cilantro Aversion Yes. Boy did they get this one wrong. I love, love, love cilantro! But my grandson may have received this gene, since he says cilantro tastes like stinkbugs. (Don't ask me how he knows the taste of stinkbugs.)
- Sweet Sensitivity More sensitive to sweets. If this is true, I taste sweet flavors more intensely than people without this variant. Maybe. I do find that baked goods like cakes and cookies can do with a lot less sugar than the recipe calls for. But that doesn't change the fact that I love sweetness!
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity Less sensitive to umami, or savory flavors. Maybe this is why I never get "Chinese restaurant syndrome." I love the "umami" flavor in foods, but am not noticeably sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG).
I'll give an abbreviated version of Porter's results. For some reason, he has one more trait (Birth Weight), added recently, which I don't see in my results yet.
- Birth Weight average-sized newborn. His birth certificate doesn't have birth weight information, so we'll probably never know.
- Cleft Chin Yes. Wrong—as far as we can tell.
- Finger Length Index finger longer than ring finger. As far as he can tell, they are the same length.
- Earlobe Type Unattached. Wrong—Attached.
- Earwax Type Wet. Right.
- Eye Color Light eyes. Right—hazel.
- Freckles No freckles. Right.
- Hair Color Darker hair. Right.
- Hair Type Naturally wavy hair. Wrong.
- Hair Strand Thickness Average. Probably right.
- Iris Patterns He should have furrows and rings in his irises. Who knows?
- Male Hair Loss Low chance of hair loss. Looks right so far. :)
- Skin Pigmentation Light to medium skin tone. Right.
- Unibrow No. Right.
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection Yes. Right.
- Bitter Sensitivity No. Probably right.
- Cilantro Aversion No.
- Sweet Sensitivity More sensitive to sweets.
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity Less sensitive to umami, or savory flavors.
Verdict? I don't see any use for it, but it was a fair $10 (each) worth of entertainment, to have done once. Coming up? We grabbed a set of 23andMe tests on a Black Friday special, and finally sent them in recently. We'll see if they're any more enlightening.