In January, I completed a three-month experiment to track my food consumption using technology (specifically MyFitnessPal). The goal was to understand if technology and the process of tracking food would influence my behaviour and health. The results of the experiment can be found in the article “The Quantified Self”.

Alongside the quantified self, I have always been curious about consumer genetic testing services, which have become increasingly popular over recent years.

The most well-known service is probably 23andMe, which offers consumer genetic testing focused on health and ancestry. The five specific areas of analysis are outlined below.

  1. Genetic Health Risk: Looking for genetic markers associated with certain health conditions.

  2. Wellness: Looking for DNA trends that supports wellness (other factors include the environment and lifestyle).

  3. Carrier Status: Identify whether you carry genetic variants for a condition. Carriers do not typically have the genetic condition, but can pass a genetic variant down to their children.

  4. Traits: Looking for DNA trends for certain characteristics, including hair colour, taste preferences, etc.

  5. Ancestry: Leverage your DNA find genetic traces of where your ancestors lived throughout history.

I purchased the combined Health + Ancestry Service, which costs £149 and provides access to all data points offered by 23andMe. They also offer a specific Ancestry Service (excluding the health data), which costs £79. However, if you are only interested in ancestry, I would recommend Ancestry, which is the same price, but currently has a more comprehensive dataset.

23andMe Saliva Collection

Once purchased, the 23andMe “saliva collection kit” is delivered in a small cardboard box. This box includes pre-paid return shipping, therefore will be re-used once you have collected your saliva sample.

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Inside the box you will find a plastic container, which includes instructions, the saliva collection tube, the tube cap and a sealable plastic bag (used to store the saliva collection tube).

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Prior to collecting your saliva sample, you must first register the kit at “https://23andme.com/start”, using the unique ID contained within the box.

Assuming you have not consumed anything or brushed your teeth within the past 30 minutes, you are now ready to collect your saliva sample. This is as simple as spitting into the saliva collection tube until your sample hits the “fill to” line.

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I am not convinced it is possible to fill the tube without spitting multiple times (it took me at least five attempts). The process itself is easy, but not something I would describe as pleasant.

Once complete, you close the funnel (tube lid), which will trigger some additional liquid to be mixed with your saliva sample. You can then remove the funnel and screw on the provided tube cap.

Finally, the tube must be sealed in the plastic bag, before storing back into the plastic container and cardboard box. You are now ready to ship the saliva sample back to 23andMe!

The 23andMe analysis process can apparently take up to eight weeks, therefore I will post part two of this article once I have received the results.