Companies like 23andMe, have been offering “sequencing” services for a while now. They allow you to determine if you have a dysfunctional gene and if your genes indicate who your ancestors were. But according to many new studies, you should also be looking at your epigenetics.
What sequencing means for 23andMe, and similar companies, is genotyping. They look for specific sequences within your genome. If those sequences exist, are normal or abnormal, they interpret the data and give you some information in a beautifully presented graph. It is not sequencing, since they cannot read any sequence of your genome through such methods. Realistically, this is ok. Most people do not need such information, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
This is however, a great step towards personalized medicine. Such companies test for many polymorphisms. If they focused more on specific diseases rather than ancestry, they could help patients a lot more. Doctors should be able to request such services for patients, and by using the results, offer them better, more suitable drugs for that individual. In the UK, there are several NHS recommended centers for genetic tests.
Is that enough?
Genetics is a complicated science, and many people don’t realize the potential of knowing your genes. Some people see more value in knowing their ancestry facts. But for those who do care about health and wellbeing there are solutions. Doing proactively genetic tests and talking with genetic counselors may be extreme for some, and expensive too. There are other solutions as well. Even 23andMe offers health stats if you buy their health package, and those may be enough. Especially if you are young and healthy with a very good family history and feel safe enough.
I would like though, as a biologist to know more about my genes. A solution to that is to use a couple of different services like the one offered by 23andMe, and analyze the data on my own. The problem though is that most of those companies analyze the same sequences. Maybe in the future there could be a company that does a lot of lab work and leaves the analysis to the patients. Then i can get a good value, while having fun analyzing my own genes.
Epigenetics refers to the regulation of gene expression. Essentially this means that all the proteins, and small molecules that affect how genes behave in your body are called epigenetics and they are separate from your genes. You can think of it like dials on top of your genes. Your gene may be there, and it may be healthy, but the proteins in your cells may have dialed its function to the minimum. This can happen through an unhealthy lifestyle, and we have seen many studies report such results.
More importantly, while we have a lot of data on the actual genes, we still know relatively little about the epigenetic mechanisms that control them. If there was a service that could sequence patients epigenome for a price, then we could use that data for research and maybe find out that some diseases are caused by epigenetic mechanisms.
Do epigenetic services exist?
In the UK, there is one, but from the website, it looks like it is in very early stages still. It is more expensive to do methylation tests and the epigenetic reagents required are not as developed. More research needs to be done, but i wouldn’t be surprised to see such a company start in 2019.