With the rise in popularity of mail-in DNA test kits, many have joined in on the fun out of a vague curiosity for “who they are”, in a geographic and genealogical sense. Except for a number of history enthusiasts for who the nitty-gritty of genealogical research, aided by an expanding library of digitized records, is a favorite past-time, many DNA test takers are just interested in a quick rundown of their ancestry when results arrive. Few then find the time or opportunity to check back on their results again.
But the question of what (else) you can do with your DNA has mostly been left unasked by many DNA test takers. That’s a waste — there’s a goldmine of knowledge to be discovered from your DNA, most notably all the genetic trait information available from your DNA. From getting a health analysis, like information on how your body processes different drugs and responds to nutrients, to aiding in introspection by understanding the genetic contribution towards your personality traits, there’s much more yet to be understood about our own DNA. Here we take you through 3 ways you can gain a deeper understanding about yourself through your existing DNA test results.
But first, let’s take a step back and review the basics of genetics.
You’ve likely heard that DNA is the blueprint of life: instructions for everything, everything, about you exist on your DNA. The unique combination of genetic variants (SNPs) you have in your DNA results in different proteins being produced, which in turn influences how your traits are expressed. These traits could be medical, physical, or even behavioral, mental or cognitive.
- Medical: risk or carrier status for hereditary diseases; response to pharmacological drugs
- Physical: hair color, eye color, height, weight, etc.
- Behavioral: nutritional (tendency to seek out certain foods over others); social
- Mental: predisposition for loneliness, neuroticism, etc.
- Cognitive: reaction time, math ability, etc.
Now you may say, wait a minute, how can such wide-ranging traits all be influenced by my genetic code?
Simply put, scientists have proved all these traits (and more) to be associated with certain SNPs. In other words, those who have a certain combination of SNPs in specific locations in your DNA tend to have a particular expression of a trait (eg. blue eyes) over another (eg. brown eyes). How much DNA influences a trait depends — but you can intuitively understand that eye color is almost solely determined by DNA, while height is also heavily influenced by other factors like environment.
Here’s the playbook on how to navigate DNA results, get the most out of your raw data, and gain a deeper understanding about yourself:
1. Ancestry Traits Service (AncestryDNA users only) — Additional $10 with test
Ancestry recently started Traits, comprising 18 reports on physical attributes including appearance and sensory traits. If you are an AncestryDNA user, this is a great resource to familiarize yourself with what your DNA is capable of telling you besides where your recent ancestors spent their lives.
Your earwax type, or existence of cleft chin, or sensitivity to sweetness, is predicted based on your DNA. The reports briefly note the gene(s) involved and its function in the body, as well as a blurb on some background on the background of the scientific study. It makes for fun reading and easy digestion for DNA novices.
The service also asks for your feedback on whether they got your results correct or not.
2. Genomelink — First 25 trait reports free
(In the interest of full disclosure, this blog post is written by Genomelink.)
If you’ve gotten a taste for how DNA is influencing your traits, head on over to Genomelink next. This platform has over 100 traits in its database kept up to date with scientific research. The numerous traits are organized based on category for easy browsing: food & nutrition, personality, intelligence, physical, fitness. More scientific and background information is provided for understanding each trait. You can access the platform by uploading your raw data.
If you want to step up your DNA prowess, familiarize yourself with the SNPs information. SNPs analyzed for a trait are listed, and what each SNP predisposes you to is marked in bold.
The key concept here is that the aggregate effect of all the SNPs determine the genetic contribution to a trait. For example, some SNPs for height may predispose you to be shorter, while others taller, with an overall genetic effect of taller height: because you have more SNPs that predispose you to be taller or their effect is stronger, or both. Again, it’s important to understand that the results here only indicate the “genetic” portion of your trait. Your actual trait also depends on environment, like nutrition and sleep.
3. Promethease — $14 / report
If you have mastered how to decipher SNP information, now’s the time to head on over to Promethease. You can access the report by uploading your raw data. Warning: the results may be overwhelming, but using the framework we have established with Ancestry Traits and Genomelink, you can actually get a lot of interesting insight out of Promethease.
Promethease is organized by SNPs, not traits. This means that your many SNPs influencing dementia risk, for example, are dispersed among the results. A workaround is to look at the SNPs provided on Genomelink, and cross-check the results. You can also order results based on “magnitude,” ie. ranked by your risk for certain outcomes. This draws your attention to things that may require your attention most. Again, here you should make sure to check all other available SNPs that influence that particular trait to get a fuller understanding of the whole picture.
And there you have it!
For a novice DNA test taker, taking an at-home DNA test may seem like a one-time interaction with your DNA. But the fact is that DNA can be used to learn about so much more than your ancestry, expanding your self-knowledge to how your body, mind and soul are wired. With these 3 tools, you can get started on your journey to discovering just that.