BLOG: Unlocking health through genes

Katherine Ranzenberger
York Dispatch

I have always been super fascinated by the science behind what makes us, us.

Where Katherine Ranzenberger's ancestors came from.

In recent years, I've had a few friends go out and purchase genetic tests.

Some of them want to see if they're carriers of genetic mutations that can lead to diseases like sickle cell anemia or autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease, which is something I've written about in the past.

Others want to know their ancestry, where their forefathers and foremothers came from and where they share similarities with people around this little blue marble in space.

For me, I wanted to know all of the above. I'm not planning to start a family in the near future, but it's always interesting to know what you could pass on to your spawn.

I also was very curious about where my ancestors are from. I've been told since birth that my family is extremely German, that we're proud Germans that helped build Frankenmuth in Michigan to what it is now, and that we have a long lineage back to Bavaria. Being a journalist, I'm always skeptical.

So I asked.

And 23andMe had answers within my genetics.

First off, a disclaimer of sorts, I am extremely white. Nearly the entirety of my genetic makeup comes from Northern Europe.

I am in fact, German - 8.5 percent, to be exact. However, I am more Irish and British, making up about 48 percent of my genes. That surprised me a bit, but I am a redhead, and my kind are plentiful in that part of the world.

What really surprised me was the itty bitty part of me that's Native American. I'm not sure where it comes from exactly, but it's there. It exists, and I find that really cool after growing up on a reservation and being surrounded by Native Americans in my hometown. (I still recognize that I am white, and this by no means gives me any right to culturally appropriate their traditions.)

How many Neanderthal variants I have.

I also have 304 genetic variants that belong to Neanderthals. This accounts for less than 4 percent of my overall DNA, according to the test results. This is kind of expected, because I am German, and we're from around the Neander Valley.

Getting into the genetic traits I can pass on to my offspring, of course that pesky MC1R gene is there to spread the ginger to the next generation. However, my spawn can share my red hair only if my partner also carries the redhead genetic variant. (This is also a cool tidbit - the tone of my red hair is also dictated by the MC1R gene. It's turned a little darker because of how the gene decides to distribute the eumelanin and pheomelanin.)

My offspring are also unlikely to be deaf, because I do not carry the gene that causes nonsyndromic hearing loss and deafness.

Other fascinating things locked inside your DNA include how much caffeine you may consume (mine says I'm likely to consume more than the average person, and it's not just because I'm a journalist), if you may move more in your sleep (me) and how deeply you may sleep (for me, not very deeply) as well as if you're likely to be a sprinter, which I am very much not.

At the end of the day, this explains a lot about me and why I am me. These little things locked within our genetics help make up who we are and what we're likely to pass on to the next generation if we choose to reproduce.

I love that I know this stuff, and I encourage you to find out more about your health through your DNA.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at or on Twitter at @YDKatherine. Follow [Your]k Health on Facebook.