Trouble Helix, by Harper’s Staff

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From posts on the private message board for 23andMe, a company that sells mail-in genetic-testing kits. In June, 23andMe accidentally mixed up the test results of as many as ninety-six customers. They were notified by email of the mistake within twenty-four hours. Haplogroups are ancestral clans with unique genetic markers.

Yesterday I received a message that my son and daughter’s results were in. She was negative for all the diseases. My son was a carrier for hemochromatosis. I was upset. How could he be a carrier and we weren’t? I checked family inheritance and noticed my son was not a match for any of us. I checked his haplogroups, and they were different from ours. A month before my son was born two local hospitals had baby switches. I panicked. My son laughed, but he looked upset. I called my sister in tears. She told me to stop crying and reminded me that we took a thousand pictures of his birth. She told me to check the traits. When I checked for eye color I noticed he was GG (blue eyes). My son does not have blue eyes. I compared genes and noticed he did not compare with any African Americans. His closest results were European. Later, I found my son in my bed asleep, hugging my pillow. He did not go to school today. He said he was sick.

23andMe sent my son’s girlfriend a notice about a mistake in her processing. She was just about to write in and ask how they determined she was Asian. She has spent the day in shock. I don’t know if she called her mother, but I know she was wondering what to ask. We talked about all the possibilities, and some of them were odd and disturbing. We have spent the entire day discussing her Asian ancestry. Even the high-risk breast cancer results were less disturbing to her than what the ancestry meant.

I got my results last night, and it looked like my mom wasn’t my mom. I called my brother to ask if I was adopted. I also called a geneticist friend to ask what she knew. It looks like 23andMe did have a mix-up. I am glad they acted relatively quickly to retest the results, but that does not make up for the past twenty-four hours.

I am African American, European, and Native American. The results I got were of a 100 percent European male with a totally different haplogroup than mine. I didn’t match my son or daughter or my dad. I looked through and saw some results that didn’t make sense to me. By the time I got to the paternal line, I knew this wasn’t my result, but it was upsetting not to match any of my family.

For over twelve hours I was in shock because I thought I was a different gender. I am a woman. I showed up as a man. I can’t tell you the thoughts that went through my head. All the way from “Are my parents really my parents?” to “How is this going to affect my five-year relationship?” to “I am not who I thought I was.” I knew that I might find out I have French ancestry, not German like I thought, but I never ever, ever thought it would show me as a different gender. Something like this rocks your whole existence. When this happens, you believe the results, because you are thinking, “Oh my gosh, DNA does not lie.”


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