Next of Kin
Live the genotyping experience. Click here to watch Greg try to decode his own genetic blueprint.
For as long as people have been studying the human genome—the complete sequence of DNA in each of us—that exploration has been the province of elite scientists in research laboratories. But in the past few years, that has changed.
When the Human Genome Project finished assembling the first complete human genome in 2003, the price tag of the entire project came to about $300 million. Five years later, a growing number of companies, with names like deCODE Genetics and 23andMe, now offer a glimpse of your own genetic code for about $1,000. Rather than sequence the whole genome, these companies take a DNA sample and analyze more than a half-million SNPS (pronounced “snips”), targeted areas that have already been linked with a disease or condition.
It’s pretty simple, really. Just go onto a website—I chose 23andMe’s—punch in your credit card number and wait for the testing kit to arrive. Being new to this whole genotyping thing, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when the mail arrived. What I got was a box conceived like a Russian nesting doll; everything I opened had something else inside. The only thing that really mattered, though, was a test tube, which I had to fill with saliva. When I filled it to the line, I snapped on the cap and mailed my test tube back to the company.
And then I waited.
Although DNA has been around as long as life itself, the study of genetics didn’t begin until 1865, when an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel experimented with pea plants in his garden and found that traits could be passed down through the generations. Scientists spent much of the next century trying to determine how the transfer of information was made. Oddly enough, says OMRF’s Dr. John Harley, “DNA was largely dismissed as just a bunch of mucus inside the nucleus of the cell until 1943.” That’s when microbiologist Oswald Avery figured out that DNA was the mechanism of genetic transfer, the way that one generation passes along to the next the blueprint for making all the structures and materials the body needs to function.