Lou Gehrig was awesome at baseball. Me? Not so much into the sports. He was known as a quiet guy. I pretty much never shut up. Lou Gehrig had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
You’re probably wondering what that last bit has to do with me. I’ve recently shared my search for my father’s family, and how nearly every paternal relative except my dad died before I was born. It’s difficult to sort through the details of such a widespread loss, but it’s clear that a large chunk of my family was taken by Lou Gehrig’s disease. Studies have found that it’s genetic in many cases and sporadic in others. Scientifically, the volume of people killed by Lou Gehrig’s disease in my family is utterly astounding. Collectively they were a very rare case and, had they all been alive today, doctors probably would have collected their DNA samples for testing as soon as it was clear what they were dealing with.
I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not I should be tested for the disease. The issue is that no test for ALS is entirely accurate, as 50% of families with familial ALS have gene mutations that have yet to be discovered. Testing for me could be at very best 50% reliable. When I last looked into the idea several years ago, I found tests to be expensive – over $1000 – and not worth the semi-peace of mind that they could bring. But when I found out that 23andMe was named Time’s “Invention of the Year” in 2008 and now offers in-home genetic tests for just $99, I was on board. It was time to take that glimpse into my future, and maybe get a peek at my past.
The process was SO simple. I got a kit in the mail, popped open the testing canister, filled it with my DNA (spit, for those of you who have a dirty mind) and sent it back for processing!
There were easy-to-read lines indicating how much saliva should be collected, and sterilizing liquid in the lid to preserve the DNA during shipping.
I registered my kit online using a barcode on the side (so there was no room for human error other than, perhaps, my own).
Test results came back in a few weeks and while there are no guarantees, it was easy for me to read that my results show a slightly lower risk of ALS than most people. 23andMe has also archived my DNA strands so that as research is furthered, they can alert me if future discoveries are made that affect my results (or I can dig in and read my own DNA strands one-by-one if I ever feel so inclined).
I also got a kick out looking at traits that my DNA told the researchers about me: I don’t flush when I drink, I have wet earwax (doesn’t everyone?), I have straight brown hair and I am likely NOT a sprinter. See, it’s in my genetics to be unathletic!
Another amazing thing I found about the testing, and one of the reasons I’m really glad I did it, is the heritage aspects involved. With over a quarter million members, 23andMe is the largest DNA-based ancestry service worldwide and it’s already located one relative for me. My DNA was tested to be 99.3% European, which means the story that my great-great-grandfather was brought over from Germany to work on the first Waldorf Astoria? Probably true. The story that someone at some point maybe married a Cherokee princess? Well, maybe not so much.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.