23andMe Review: A Novelty And The Way Forward [UPDATED]

Posted by on January 3, 2013 at 8:47 am
The 23andMe test kit.

The 23andMe test kit.

A few weeks ago, I wrote up about 23andMe, the genetic screening company that could help you tap into your DNA: the mostly unknown ID you carry in every cell in your body. The company, founded by Google exec Sergey Brin’s wife, just raised a bunch of cash, granting them the ability to flood the market with cheap (relative to the original $1,000 asking price) test kits that seemed like a great way forward for, y’know, mankind. For full disclosure, I was sent one of these $99 kits from 23andMe for media evaluation and have received the first major results from the test to share with you. What did it say? Further more, would I recommend paying money for it? Or, let me put this another way, should you skip out on two new Xbox games to know part of your genetic identity? Well, I hope to provide some resolution.

Let me provide you a brief timeline:

  • I submitted my order for a test kit on December 18th.
  • It arrived December 19th. I’ll describe the test in a moment.
  • I shipped it back on December 20th.
  • 23andMe acknowledged they had received my sample on December 23rd.
  • They delivered an e-mail confirmation of my results on January 2nd.

23andMe said one to two weeks – I imagine it’s longer when they have more orders to process – and yet it only took 15 days from beginning to end for such a complex service, even over the holidays.

23andMe wants you to do some very specific stuff. Follow the instructions!

23andMe wants you to do some very specific stuff. Don’t mess it up!

The Test

So, anyway, the test itself. The colorful package at the top of the article arrived in a big FedEx Express envelope with a return sleeve. The top panel of the kit included instructions, a plastic tray with the sample vial and some other components, including a plastic baggie to place the vial in.

Spit into this thing.

Spit into this thing. The top portion is the preservative pouch that gets sliced open when you close it.

The centerpiece is the vial (above) with a large cap/funnel. On it is a bar code that you register with the web site, so hopefully you’ve already created an account. After not drinking, eating, or smoking for at least half an hour, you fill the vial with spit. Now, I drool over pretty much everything, but it took four hard squeezes (kissy faces, really) to get enough saliva to fill it to the marked level. The funnel helps a lot, but it serves a dual purpose. There’s an indentation inside there that slices into the preservative pouch on the other end of the hinge as you close it. The preservative pouch empty, you unscrew the entire funnel assembly and place a smaller cap on the sample vial and shake your saliva up with the preservative. You place the vial back in the bio-bag, the bio-bag back in the box, then the box back in the FedEx sleeve. By the end, you feel as if you’ve buried your DNA within a whole new cellular infrastructure. Wrapping Christmas presents was never this exciting.

Oh, obviously not. Just a box with a bag with a vial with some spit.

Oh, obviously not. Just a box with a bag with a vial with some spit. That’s not a real liquid.

The sample.

The sample. They’re very specific about how to prepare the vial. What used to take two doctors is now just some clever graphics on a plastic bag.

Now, you wait.

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