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New Age Family Tree

June 14th, 2018 | By: Nancy Ripton
Technology has taken the family way beyond where grandma and grandpa came from. Retail genomics can tell you what colour of eyes your newborn will have or their likelihood of developing an illness at a later age. Here’s how to unlock your family's

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New Age Family Tree

“I’m the kind of person that can’t leave a pretty box with a bow untouched–I have to know what’s inside,” says Harriett Balkind, founder of So when the baby boomer was given the chance to take a peak inside her own genetic make up, the opportunity was too irresistible to ignore. “Who wouldn’t want to know more about where they come from and what their risk of developing a certain disease is?” says Balkind. “Unlocking your personal DNA is the ultimate present to unwrap.”

Retail genomics became a possibility about 15 years ago with the successful mapping of the human genome. Although it costs close to $400,000 to decode the entire human genome, a handful of companies have found a way to create a personal genomic profile at an affordable price. The most popular, 23andMe, looks at the entire human genome, and decodes 580,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs – pronounced “snips”). These SNPs are genetic variations in a person’s DNA sequence passed down through generations. “They can’t tell you your entire health destiny,” says Avey. “But they can indicate a susceptibility to certain diseases and let you know more about where you came from.”

The test is as easy as spitting in a vial and mailing your specimen, along with $90 to $170, to 23andMe headquarters. In a few weeks you’ll have your results. Here’s a look at what you can expect to find out:

Unlocking your Family’s Past

“Years ago I was traveling in France,” recalls Balkind. “When I went to a synagogue, they asked me if I was an Ashkenazi Jew. I had no idea. I grew up in Arkansas, a Reformed Jew, and I always thought of being Jewish as a religion rather than a tribe of people.” When Balkind got her results from 23andMe, she finally had an answer to that question. Her ancestors were in fact Ashkenazi Jews.

“It’s fun to trace back our origins and learn more about where we came from,” says Wojcicki. “The desire for exploration is such a fundamental part of who we are.” 23andMe allows you to trace back your mitochondrial DNA to a significant mutation at a specific place and time–for example, the migration of people to the Americas. Based on this knowledge you can learn more about your ancestry than a family tree could ever tell you.

“Each genetic profile tells a story,” says Wojcicki. You can trace your lineage back thousands of years, or track the inheritance of certain genes and traits over generations. “If you have three generations complete the test, you can share results and track inheritance,” says Avey. For example, you can see if you inherited grandma’s “taste blindness” towards bitter food or if you inherited your eye color from your paternal or maternal side. Best of all, leaving a sample your DNA will allow you to create a genetic legacy for future generations of your family.