While I’ve never been much of a “Who am I, and why am I here” ponderer, I was delighted to receive a genetic testing kit from 23andme as part of Birthday Hoopla 2016. My mom is Korean and my Dad is Polish/German, so it’s likely that most of my ancestors were forced to flee their oppressors at some point. (When you’re both German AND Polish, thinking about World War II raises some awkward questions.)
Anyway. Suffice to say I was PRETTY PSYCHED to figure some shiz out. Star in my own version of “Who Do You Think You Are?” but with science instead of genealogy.
The basic 23andme process is simple. The company sends you a test tube. You spit into the tube, seal it up, and mail it back in. They apply science/wizardry to the DNA that occurs naturally in your spit, and tell you all sorts of things about your ancestry and your health (which got them into some trouble—we’ll get back to that).
So, step 1: Spit into a tube.
Okay. Okay? OKAY.
See, what dearly beloved gifter didn’t realize when he got me this present is that I have a deep-seated saliva aversion. Everything about it—mine or other people’s, drool or loogie—I find horrifying. I don’t trot this fact out at parties, but now you know.
It took a lot of screw-your-courage-to-the-sticking-place, lie-on-your-back-and-think-of-England ministrations, but I managed to get the job done. (Even just typing these words is making me shudder.) Because, really, a few moments of suffering will all be worth it to find out I share some common DNA with Pikachu.
Since I was a quivering wreck after The Spitting Incident, TheBoy helped me get the sample ready for mailing. (I was like one of those women in a Victorian novel who doesn’t want to see the baby she is giving up for adoption. I was like, “JUST TAKE IT AWAY. I CAN’T EVEN.”)
So I popped the package in the mail and waited to be delighted. 23andme is very good about updating you at each step of the process: sample received, sample being analyzed, report being prepared, etc. I saw that they got my spit. I saw that they were analyzing my spit.
And then I got an email from stating that my sample failed analysis.
As someone who takes great pride at her skill with test-taking (that IS a fact I actually whip out at parties), this was a great blow. 23andme offers a second chance, though, and I asked for another tube. I also at this point became the first person in history to pass her driving test but not her DNA test on the first try.
So another tube arrived and I gave myself a pep talk. Obviously my phobia was affecting the results. My DNA was recessing into my body. COME ON, CHROMOSOMES. WE CAN DO THIS. SÍ, SE PUEDE.
[Here, insert a montage of the spit-to-mail process happening again, but with me having more of a steely glint to my aspect.]
I waited some more. Wondered if “Who Do You Think You Are?” ever runs into stuff like this.
And then I got another email. Another fail.
23andme tries to analyze each sample twice, so my two samples were actually four failures to find enough loose DNA (my paraphrase) to run their tests. They gave me a refund, and the fact that they didn’t just make something up—“you’re part Haitian!”—that convinces me they’re the real deal. Unlike every episode of CSI ever, when a one-second cheek swab yields enough evidence to convict a person of several crimes. BOO.
I’m trying to look on the bright side. Maybe my ancestry report would have revealed I’m actually Russian and Chinese, so I’d have to join the Communist party. Maybe my health report would have revealed that I’m simultaneously a carrier of and at risk for every disease. (The health report part of 23andme is controversial, since people get really freaked out when you tell them stuff like “Your genes are full of Alzheimer’s.”) Maybe my low-DNA density means I can commit crimes with impunity and I’ve been wasting my time living on the right side of the law.
I don’t want to dissuade you from 23andme—your mileage will certainly vary. Perhaps in the future they’ll come up with a different way of collecting DNA that will allow people like me (X-Men) to get involved. But until that day, I’ll be thinking about my superhero name.