Tuesday 8 January 2013


I first learned of the personal genome testing service provided by 23andme.com a few years ago (while watching a US genealogy program on TV) and was interested in using the service for myself and DW, but was put off by the price (then around $300 per test kit, plus a monthly 'subscription' for one year that cost another $100 or so). While information about genetic markers that could indicate an increased risk of some disease may be a helpful in making positive lifestyle changes (or at least prompt getting a relevant medical check-up), I was mainly interested in the genealogical aspects - while I can trace a few of my maternal ancestors back to the mid 1600s, and paternal ancestry to the late 1700s, DW has no family history information prior to her grandparents. So any extra information about where her acestors lived would be interesting.  But at the time, $300 each seemed way too expensive for casual interest, so I never ordered a kit and forgot all about it.

But yesterday I read an article about 23andme in the SMH, and found that since December the price has been reduced to only US$99 per kit, and the 'subscription' fee is no longer imposed. So I went ahead and ordered test kits for myself and DW. The international shipping (including return postage) was $74.95 for the first kit, and $41.00 for each additional kit, so the total cost for the two kits was US$313.95, which was charged as A$302.01 on my Visa card (and there will probably also be a small 'foreign transaction' fee charged by the bank). A$150 each seems a reasonable outlay, especially as routine genealogical information (such as copies of birth or marriage certificates) can cost around $40 each!

It will be interesting to see if the test results provide any interesting hints as to DW distant family origins. And we might get some useful health information that highlights areas of diet and excercise that may require special attention, or prompt us to get a medical check-up for specific risk factors. Although I have seen negative views regarding the 23andme service by some medical professionals (one was advocating using a 'proper' genetic sequencing service costing many thousands of dollars, and consulting a 'genetic councellor' to learn the results), this viewpoint may be influenced by a vested interest in the general public only having access to personal medical information via the medical profession. Personally I think it is generally good for this service to be widely available at quite low cost. While some health results might be concerning, they are only indicators of a possibly heightened risk factor. I'd consult my GP to see if any further tests were warranted if there was a risk factor. And while I might not like learning that I have a very high risk of a particular condition reducing my life expectancy, it could also be useful for financial planning purposes. After all, calculating how long one's retirement savings have to last simply from the 'average' life expectancy has always been a rather haphazard approach.

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Anonymous said...

Unsure if my comment went through, i was wondering if this test could invalidate your life insurance if anything was highlighted and the insurance company was not informed.

enoughwealth@yahoo.com said...

I've no idea really. In the US there is some legislation regarding insurance companies not dicriminating based on genetic test results, but I'm not across the details or implications of that.

I'm not aware of the situation in Australia - there is information required on insurance applications regarding and known conditions. However, I think insurance can't be cancelled or modified based on conditions that arise (or you become aware of) after the policy is in place.

Also, as the 23andme results are based on probability estimates based on SNPs of genome, not genetic sequencing or specific genetic testing, there is probably even less onus on the insured to pass on this information to the insurance company than if you went to your GP with the results and got a suspected condition verified.

That said, if I didn't already have sufficient insurance, I'd look at taking out a new policy or increasing the amount on an existing policy before getting the test resutsl. Simply so that I could cross all the 'known condition' boxes in good faith...