Berkeley, personal genomics, and my 23andMe results

Last month, on April 23, it was DNA day.  Personal genomics company 23andMe offered a huge discount on their regularly-priced $400 Complete package, down to $99.  The geek (or lesser offensive “early adopter”) in me decided to empty my wallet and go for it.

Last night, I received my results.  I am still combing through them; nutritionally speaking, there is still much to study, so there are few results for this.  But I have found some metabolic variants that could be interesting, which I will go into in more detail in a future post.  A few a list below.

But first: earlier this week, media sources reported that UC-Berkeley will be asking for DNA samples to analyze 3 nutritional related genes related to alcohol metabolization, lactose, and folate metabolism.

I like John Hawks’ response to this.  There really is no point in having this information at this time outside of sheer curiosity.  To be fair, Berkeley is offering educational programs about personal genomics so the students are better informed on what the results mean, but why waste the money?  This is the same school that last year assigned a summer reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Pollan; the 2 perspectives each offer are quite polar.  Pollan focuses on the big picture of nutrition: eat whole, real foods.  Giving students their data for 3 nutrition related genes may encourage some to modify their diets because of it, perhaps adding designer foods or supplements- even when we simply don’t have enough research to support doing so yet.  This is heading toward nutritionism, which Pollan obviously strongly opposes.

The answer to the ideal diet will, in my humble opinion, likely lie somewhere in the middle.  Clearly getting people to eat whole foods should be priority 1.  However this may not be enough for optimizing health: as vividly explored in The 10,000 Year Explosion by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, it is pretty clear that different ethnicities, depending on when they adopted agriculture, will require different diets and lifestyle choices.  We are not our hunter-gatherer ancestors, nor should the vast majority of us need to mimic their diets.  This will also be explored in future posts.  What genomics and genetics reveals in the future will be exciting in the context of nutritional research.  Studies will need to be designed to detect individual responses to diets and nutrients.  As pointed out about the recent 5-a-day fruit/vegetable and cancer failure, Keith Grimaldi highlights the need for nutrigenomics to clear up epidemiological confusions.

Now here are a few of my 23andMe SNPs, along with generalized phenotype and comments:

Lactose Intolerance: rs4988235(T;T) – likely to be tolerant, and I am.

Bitter Tasting: rs713598(G;G) – can taste certain bitter flavors, yes I can.

ACTN3 – the “sprinter” gene: rs1815739(C;C) – effects mostly fast twitch muscle fibers and supposedly tends toward power performance rather than endurance; interestingly I was an endurance runner through undergraduate school, though not very successful.  Though I have never been a good sprinter either.  Obviously there are many other genes, and environmental conditions that effect performance, it will require lots of study to judge relative contributions.