I put some personal waste into a postbox recently. And a few weeks later I received a summary analysis of my DNA and microbiome. I’d thought it sensible to get an understanding of any potential genetic health risks especially since they might affect our children and theirs. And a check on the health of my second brain, my gut bacteria, was long overdue.
Privacy surrendered, I learned many things, among them that I need more inulin. I need to eat things like Jerusalem artichokes and root chicory to get it. The advantage that might accrue from the soluble fibres in inulin could well be a decreased risk of diabetes. Maybe so, maybe worth a try, I thought. Prebiotic and indigestible in the small intestine, inulin is thought to feed the bacteria in the lower gut. A common side effect of inulin is flatulence, since re-confirmed even though I introduced the inulin scientifically. Jerusalem artichokes have always been a windy challenge, so I tried and failed to de-sensitise myself with tiny doses. Cooking them in lemon or vinegar didn’t neutralise them either. Now I’m too scared to try chicory root.
Some minor news from the microbiome was that I had American stools. OK, that’s not quite what it revealed. The actual wording was about characterisation of my diet and somehow the analysis grouped me on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Now I’m completely vegetarian, I suppose I should do it again. But I won’t because things have only got better than the baseline this microbiome test provided.
My only significant DNA flag was an increased risk of hypothyroidism. The internet tells me this is a condition in which the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones. Crucial sounded important so I looked into what might mitigate the risk. Probiotics. So I might be better off to eat live bacteria and increase my yeast intake. A tendency to get colds and tiredness are among the things that probiotics might reverse. I live with a lower white cell count than is the norm so probiotics might help there too. In the three years after radiotherapy for prostate cancer, I used to say that I’d catch anything that came into a room with me. A four month bout with flu after flu after flu ended with a pelvic biopsy. This ruled out leukaemia and as if by magic, having waited several months to be so biopsied, my near constant flu and colds just stopped. Kefir has since entered our breakfasts to help in any way it can, if only for maintenance and avoidance of pandemicals.
It seems there were 660 thousand polymorphisms obtained from my DNA analysis. They say sensitivity to scent is determined by gene variants that influence olfactory receptors. One called rs7943953 indicates some bad DNA news; my genotype is less sensitive to the smell of violets and roses. I admit I’m not great on scent. Indeed both my senses of taste and smell are fickle.
Some good news from the DNA was that there is headroom to improve my sports performance. ‘People with your genotype are more likely to have an average level of erythropoietin.’ You probably already know erythropoietin as EPO from getting help with your cycling, golf and tennis performance. But I walk rather than golf or run or chase balls so doping with EPO won’t help me.
I told the kids that I’m a healthy carrier of a gene variant that’s responsible for the development of Type-1 Haemochromatosis and the qualifier that the test doesn’t screen for every possible variant. This means I may carry a gene variant that is not covered by this test. I’d already known of this tendency in the very extended family and had previously been screened and found negative for the disease.
Private Eye have a Pseuds Corner for pretentious clap-trap. They even have Pseuds Corporate for prolix ramblings. If a report says ‘People with your genotype are able to quickly neutralise the effects of caffeine. You are likely to experience no symptoms when drinking a large number of caffeinated drinks.’ where would you file this qualifier: ‘The CYP1A2 gene encodes cytochromes that are responsible for metabolising 95% of coffee that is consumed. The rs762551 polymorphism in the CYP1A2 gene may reduce cytochrome activity, prolonging the action of caffeine and causing uncomfortable side effects.’
I learned many things from the AtlasBiomed screening. Hurrah, I didn’t learn of any deadly microbiome or DNA conditions lurking in wait for me or my offspring. Boo hiss, the very high incidence of cancer among us is still beyond explanation and predictive testing. And despite rs7943953, I do love rose petal jam and the Turkish Delight.
A benefit of having done the test is that my DNA is on file and every month or so, I get an email update based on the constantly evolving knowledge from DNA research to which of course, my DNA information contributes.
A virtuous circle? Fuzzy logic?
Was this me stupidly paying to surrender my genetic privacy to a faceless corporation incapable of forgetting me? A corporation that might be bought by less scrupulous faceless corporations? Is their governance or their interpretation of ethics a threat to me? Now or in the future? Could they be hacked? Could a higher authority demand access to my details? Would that authority share them with another? Was I insane to tell you where to look and what to look for? Will I regret my actions if there’s an authoritarian future or a social revolution or an invasion by foreign powers or an outsourcing to machine-driven health care decisions? Or something entirely different? It was what it was. So be it.
I set myself a small lunchtime challenge to compare near and far photos of the lone tulip that served us well for most of April. The petals were blown off in a squall last night and I watched for a sunbeam to pick out its dead heart. The 50 and 100 mm snaps were taken at 1 metre from the subject. The 600 and 1600 mm were from 12 metres distant. All handheld, it’s pretty nigh impossible to hold the big lenses still, meaning this couple photos are not as sharp as they could be. And worse, I used f/10 for the shots and broke the rule of thumb that the shutter speed should be at least the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens. The 50 and 1600 mm are manual focus lenses made in the 1950’s mounted on a Fuji X body. The others are auto-focussing modern glass on a Canon DSLR. It’s hard to beat the 100mm macro.