For my 40th birthday, my fella got me an unusual present - DNA testing kits for both of us from the private company 23andme. We both had to spit into a testtube, which was then collected by courier and whisked off to a lab in America, where it was then analysed to reveal information about our ancestory, traits and health.
We were emailed that our results were in, this morning, so logged on to the website to find some interesting information, and in 20 minutes everything and nothing changed.
I first looked at my ancestory. My maternal lineage is Haplogroup H1a1 (a haplogroup is a combination of DNA sequences which are passed down from parents). People from H1a1 are mainly from Scandinavia, although they're also found in Western Europe, especially Spain (we always thought my mother's mother had Spanish heritage). My paternal lineage is R1b1b2a1a1*. This tends to be focussed more around the North Sea, especially England, Germany and the Netherlands. Apparently some of both my maternal and paternal ancestors lived in Doggerland (named after Dogger Bank), a land mass that joined England to Europe and eventually vanished when the sea rose about 9000 years ago - it's like a real-life Atlantis. Weapons and bones are regularly found in the North Sea, dating back to when Doggerland existed. Here's a map that someone speculatively created of what it could have looked like
So I'm from a country that until this morning I didn't even know existed, and it doesn't even exist any more. That's pretty mind-blowing. It's not like I can go back there on an ancestral pilgrimage.
The analysis also tells you what percentage of your DNA is neanderthal or caveman. Apparently the average Northern European has 2.6% caveman DNA. Mine is 2.8% which is in the 80th percentile - so I'm more caveman than most people around me. Maybe that explains my heavy eyebrow ridge and big nose (apparently for it's for protection from cold air).
I then moved on to look at health. Your DNA is examined to see if you are a carrier of dozens of different hereditary illnesses and other traits that may or may not end up being expressed as actual diseases. The bad news is that I'm twice as likely as the average person to develop Alzheimer's Disease - the average risk is 7.2% - mine is 14.2%. I also have an increased risk of a range of other nasties, including high blood pressure, stomach cancer, throat cancer, aneurysm and osteoarthritis, although the risks of these things are actually very very low anyway - so even though my risk of stomach cancer is double the average - it's still only 0.4%. I can live with that (probably). And I have a decreased risk of lots of other things including diabetes, melanoma, rheunmatoid arthritis, gout and migraines. I'm quite a bit less likely to have heart disease or Parkinsons. So, you win some, you lose some.
In terms of traits rather than diseases, I discovered that I should never try heroin or cigarettes (I'm likely to get very addicted to both). I also have a genetic marker for low tolerance of pain (which reminded me of yelling out when pulling off a plaster yesterday - at least I can blame my genes for being a softy). The analysis correctly predicted my hair and eye colour, and that my wee would smell funny if I had asparagus. Apparently, I don't metabolise caffeine very well, I'm likely to sneeze in bright sunlight and I don't have a gene that gives me enhanced athletic performance, although I do respond normally to exercise and diet by losing weight (so I have no-one to blame if I get fat but myself - in fact there were a couple of other genes which said I shouldn't really be fat at all - so I'll really be to blame if I get fat). I was also relieved to see that I have substantially decreased odds of going bald - which kind of fits with what I'd suspected. And I have one of the markers for HIV resistance - apparently 1% of people have two markers and are very unlikely to become HIV+, whereas 10-14% of Europeans have one of the markers, which means that if they are infected, there's a good chance that the disease will take a long time to show up. Weirdly, my fella has that same marker as well.
It's fascinating stuff, but as I said, it changes everything and nothing. I'm not too bothered about my increased potential to develop Alzheimer's, though I think I will start having more decaff drinks. Of all the information, what really affected me was the Doggerland stuff, though I suspect most Europeans could probably trace ancestors back there. Still, as birthday presents go, this beats a pair of socks!