Ever since I graduated from Elementary school, I have been interested in science, learning about all kinds of interesting things. Why things happen, how they happen, how you can replicate them, all get me more excited to learn science, but as much fun as things that you have easy access to are, the things that intrigue me the most have always been new things. New technology that allows you to do new things, or even to try out old ideas that would have sounded like science fiction just a few years back. My favorite? Genetic biology and engineering. However, nowadays, this technology is more available than ever, and civilians can now use programs like “23 and Me” that allow us to get information about our genetic makeup, disease risks and even ancestry!
Although the entire technology is amazing and impressive, I was particularly surprised at a few facts about this particular program “23 and Me”. First off, the fact that you don’t need to send in any more than a bit of your spit! It will not cost you any arms and legs to use this program, not even blood or skin cells, just a spit sample. Although this process obviously works, or else they wouldn’t use it, it seems odd that this is possible. Originally, DNA samples were collected by extracting white blood cells from whole blood samples. For obvious reasons, this version never really made it further than doctor’s offices, because of the cost of extracting samples, processing samples and the general intrusiveness of getting a blood sample. Nobody really wants to have to do something like that. So the new and improved way of doing this is still by extracting white blood cells, but it turns out that regular saliva contains quite a bit of it, and it is in a easily processed form. Hurray! No more blood samples necessary! The second part of this process that has intrigued me, is that by using this technology, they can find your ancestral roots, even going as far back as finding out how much you are Neanderthal you are! This is some really wacky stuff, that shows how some of us are slightly different from others, leading back features like larger eye sockets, more robust bodies, and even seasonal allergies from Neanderthal roots. This is accomplished by comparing of certain designated genes, which is not as simple as it sounds but is a very creative and well designed use of this technology. Also, by using databases from their site, 23 and Me can reveal where people with similar DNA live, and what place your ancestors may have came from. Amazing stuff.
Although all of these things are well and good, but this technology is still expanding and being commercialized, allowing more and more people to use recourses like this, expanding databases, and providing everyone with more information. According to the 23 and Me site, when you use their services, you could be contributing to over 230 separate studies, helping bring data and attention to the entire field of Genetics, hopefully paving a part to even more widespread use and improvements to this kind of technology and stretching its boundaries to even more interesting uses.