She is Mad but She is Magic: How I Hacked My Family’s Genome.

And Something’s odd –within—

That Person that I was —

And this One – do not feel the same—

Could it be Madness –this? – Emily Dickinson

When I decided to hack my genome in between washing my toddler’s socks and making a scrapbook of her third year, I should have known there would be a few surprises lying in wait. Many people in my position would question whether they really even wanted to know what predestiny held for them in their genes or at least give it a second thought but not me. My overly curious nature determined that I had to know everything about my DNA from the moment I knew it was a possibility. I also had to hack the DNA of all my relatives who could be convinced to give up their saliva for a DNA test that I inevitably bought them for their birthday. They pretty much thought I was crazy, and how right they would end up being.

“A Beautiful Mind” the biopic of the late John Nash, who died this past weekend at 86, is a portrait of a man burdened by schizophrenia and brilliance, what is popularly known as touched by fire. As it turns out, a beautiful mind might be closer to my own reality than I would ever have imagined before spitting in a test tube. My genetic predispositions have made me feel the weight of my 46 chromosomes worth of underachievement and at the same time intensified my awe of men like John Nash who under the darkness of schizophrenia made startling advances in mathematics, game theory and our conception of our world and ourselves. I may be an underachiever but at least I am a profoundly curious one, and what I have come to discover is that there is probably a gene for that.

After hacking my DNA, my mother’s, my father’s and my daughter Eva’s father’s DNA I have put together an interesting picture of our collective medical risks, personality quirks, and a lot of odd facts that I can categorically say I am no better off knowing. For example I have a gene SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) that predisposes me to sneeze when exposed to sunlight. This has plagued me my entire life, and now we are all better off for knowing that I wasn’t coming down with something it is just a genetic mutation on rs10427255, also called a photic sneeze reflex, an oddity I share with about 25% of people.

On a more concerning note both my mother and I have a ten fold higher risk of breast cancer, and my mother is a survivor, something I believe I am better off knowing, especially as my daughter will likely have inherited at least half of those SNPs. Out of the numerous Snps that predispose a person to cancer we have two of the possible 25 causal mutations on the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes in addition to a host of other SNPs.

After surmising my discoveries I called my mother and father together for a genetic meeting of the minds or rather bodies, my two genetic donors to let them know all about their DNA and what they had given me other than a good education. “I have one gene for hazel eyes like dad, and three for blue eyes and blonde hair like mom, but that one hazel gene makes a lot of sense because my eyes are not blue like mom’s and a lot of people think they are green, now I know why.” They were bored already so I decided to take it up a notch.

“I am going to die at 11am.”


“Your genes, tell you that?”

“No, I am going to commit suicide.”


“I’m joking… but I have a gene mutation on SNP rs7221412 which means I am an intermediate riser, I don’t wake up early or late, which is true. Research also suggests that I am more likely to die on a morning, shortly before 11am.”

“Is there any good news in our DNA?”

“We all have obesity genes and are part of the 88% of the population who cannot maintain weight loss unless by high energy exercise- SNP GS281. Sorry mom walking doesn’t work.”

“I suppose we knew that anyway.” Mom said.

“We all have sprinting muscles though.” I countered with optimism.

“I don’t think I have ever sprinted to anything but the fridge,” Mom said.

“Well we would all benefit from a low fat diet and staying away from carbs but lucky us we all have the genetic mutation that allows us to digest lactose so we can eat all the cheese we want as long as we don’t care about getting fat.”

Mom reaches for a cracker, I pick up the cheese knife and point it at her.

“Put the cracker down, carbs will add at least five pounds over night.”

Then I reconsidered, “But don’t worry you will live long enough to waste away so you might as well have a few slices, you both have longevity genes unlike me who drew the short straw and have but one gene for a shorter lifespan.”

“Are we going to get Alzheimer’s?” Mom asked.

“No, but I will probably end up with dementia- better hope you don’t live past 100.”

“Good news?”

“Dad and I have an enhanced hippocampal volume, which means we have a higher IQ.”

“Than me?” Mom asked.

“Who knows but this one might ruin my life,” I say reading from my report, “I evidently have a higher risk of diarrhea and susceptibility to the Norovirus. This alone has solidified my decision not to have any more children.”

“You need give us the good news now.”

“I have a better episodic memory- it must be why I am really good at remembering everything for my blog.”

“And I don’t have such a good memory?” Mom asked.

“No mom you just have cognitive impairment with ageing on snp…”

“Okay enough” She said interrupting. I ignored her.

“To tell us all something we already know- we all have at least three addiction genes, especially for nicotine.”

“What no cigarettes, no booze, no carbs, no cheese?” Mom shook her head in profound disappointment.

“Yes and you are still going to get Gout.”

“Good news?” Dad asked again.

“You have high good cholesterol. Must be all the cheese!”

“Well isn’t that the cherry on the top!”

“We probably shouldn’t eat ice cream we have a gene snp for higher sugar cravings.”

By the time I introduced the hacked family genome to the siblings, there was a family backlash brewing. When we went to Government House in Bermuda to celebrate my parent’s dual Queen’s Badge of Honor for community service, the topic naturally came up over cocktails.

Here we are at Government House: Mom, Dad and the siblings:

Government House

“We should be on spritzers, or we will end up in the Mid Atlantic Wellness Center.”


“We have a genetic mutation on snp rs1800497 for addiction.”

“Half the family is in AA.”

“Or should be.”

“Well mom and I have an officially bad gene snp that predisposes us to really BAD hangovers- our dopamine receptors don’t recover as fast as other people, but in this case I think it might be a protective gene.”

“That is optimistic.” My sister said.

“There is a gene snp for that! Mom and I have a gene for optimism and more sociable, less aggressive behavior.”

“Maybe we should try cocaine instead.” Mom offered sipping her wine with an sly smile.

“Oh no mom, we both have a snp predisposing us to cocaine and heroin addiction.”

“We shouldn’t be discussing this at Government house.”

“I don’t believe a word of it, sounds like airy fairy BS.” My sister said.

“You aren’t going to find this on you know, it’s all written up on PUB MED, this is hard science.”

“Remember what I told you?” my sister asked. I felt a Psychology 101 lesson coming on from her degree twenty years ago.

“What? – that I have an external locus of control, because I read my horoscope, talk to psychics and am now hacking my DNA.”


“Oh I remember, you believe this stuff too- you always told me with horror when we were teenagers that one’s sexual proclivities are inherited from one’s parents, therefore what you like in bed is probably what your mom likes too.”

“No I was going to say you and dad, and Giles must have a gene for being out to lunch, away with the pixies.”

“Oh well there is probably a gene for both, at least we don’t have a gene for liking to be peed on during sex.”

“Thank god for that.”

“We really shouldn’t be talking about this at Government House.” I agreed with my mother for once.

Later on over dinner, Anna Laura’s husband said to me, “I know I am not supposed to notice, but your boobs look huge in that dress.”

“There is a snp for that. I have three large boob genes, lucky me and a ten fold increase for breast cancer so Ill probably have to cut them off eventually.”

There was a collective family eye roll.

“Maybe that’s why people were staring at you at Government House.” My sister added.

“You probably have the gene snp that mom has on rs10246939 – the ability to taste bitterness.” I said with glee.

Saving the best for last, I described to everyone the difference between an Orchid Child and a Dandelion Child. Orchid children tend to be difficult toddlers, prone to externalizing and grow up to become sensitive children who need specific parenting techniques and be coddled into adult existence. Orchids need a greenhouse to thrive, whereas Dandelion children can grow and thrive anywhere, a sidewalk, a metaphorical ghetto, the fifth child of a welfare mother.

“I am definitely a Dandelion.” Announced my mother.

“Me too.” Said my sister.

“Well I’m an Orchid, at SNP rs 1800855 so someone else is an orchid.”

Everyone looked at Dad, who shrugged.

“I think you are an Orchid,” I say to my sister.


“Because you have middle child syndrome- still.”

“What happens to Orchid children who get a Dandelion upbringing?”

“They become drug addicts or generally fail at life, or become highly functioning sociopaths.” I look over at my sister; she looks at me. We laugh.

“What happens to Orchid children who do get a greenhouse upbringing?”

“Orchid children become capable of blooming spectacularly. Eva is an orchid child and I am starting to understand that her raging intemperment and sensitivity is about more than being a toddler, she is an orchid toddler.”—-how-your_b_6158588.html

Another collective family eye roll.

“What is so fascinating is that all of this underlies a new genetic theory which suggests that the very genes that plague us as a species, addiction, orchidery etc evolutionarily persist in our genome because in the right environment they can create the most successful people. “

“An Orchid Bloom.”

“Yes, and what is interesting is that not only are dad and I orchid children we also share the mad genius gene.”

“Does that mean you are mad or a genius?”

I suddenly had a vision of all of my exboyfriends dressed in chorus gowns swinging back and forth in rhythm, singing “Yes Jesus!” and nodding in unison.“Crazy.”

But scientifically I answered, “Possibly both, or schizophrenic. We have a homozygous T:T allele on the Rs6994992 SNP on the neuregulin 1 gene, a 65% increased prefrontal lobe activity, high academic performance, high creativity, high psychosis risk and addiction. Touched by Fire. There is a legitimate link between psychosis and creativity, think John Nash, Sylvia Plath, Lord Byron, Van Gogh.”

“Perhaps this is why most of my followers are mental health bloggers?” I added.

“Genetic Delusions of Grandeur,” offered one of my siblings.

“Leave me alone I am blooming,” I responded.

“Are you going to cut your ear off now?”

“No but I probably would if I had become an accountant, instead I am a writer and artist in a long line of writers and artists with the same genetic predisposition for creativity, madness, and addiction. Can someone pass the red wine?”

“Somehow Dad survived thirty years as a lawyer.”

“He drank a lot of scotch.”

Our genetic conversation could continue for years, but I decided as a coup de grace I would make the following prediction for my life based on what I have discovered about my genetic predispositions:

I will die at 11am at age 70 while making love to a man half my age ( rs2811712 lack of physical impairment with age) of an exercise induced stroke ( RS1024611 increased risk of exercise induced ischemic stroke) or heart attack (rs5174 increased risk of myocardial infarction) but what a way to go ( rs53576 more likely to be an optimist) and my substantial estate ( rs6994992 mad genius gene) will be bequeathed to AA and the Mid Atlantic Wellness Center, and my very own orchid child, Eva who is mad like me or like the line from a Charles Bukowski poem, “She is mad, but she is magic, there is no lie in her fire.”

Sylvia Plath-Mommy


If you would like to hack your own genome, order a basic gene test for $99 on:

And then when you get your results download the raw data off of their website and then run it through this website for $5:

I’ll Hack Yours, You Hack Mine


Last weekend, in between cutting my toenails, drinking two pints of coffee and folding laundry I decided like a typical middle aged mother to sit down with my laptop and instead of reading about Hilary’s campaign for the presidency I spent my all too valuable free time hacking my genome. We all have secrets locked away, encoded into our DNA, and that accident of conception and human mutation over centuries that resulted in you and me is just begging to be hacked so hack I did.

Believe it or not this all started over a year ago with my ambition to become a member of the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution. To become a Daughter, you must prove your bloodline to a revolutionary solider through birth and death certificates or other evidentiary methods like published genealogies. This is no small deed, and the process usually separates the dilettante from the serious. It’s been a year and I am still an “in process member” or dilettante but I have not given up. I have proven the first three generations back and then the hardest generation, the oldest one but I have two in between that elude me proving on paper that I have revolution in my blood.

However, this was but a starting point for something much deeper. The same revolutionary line, my mother’s father’s family has been traced all the way back to European royalty and Charlemagne himself on one branch. Not to scoff at royalty but another line of his family intrigued me more. My grandfather always maintained to all of us that his grandmother was a Cherokee squaw and was very proud of his Native American heritage. This has been passed down to all the branches of the family but we have no photographs or proof? In my pursuit for revolutionary status I discovered that we could probably find out if my great great grandmother was Native American by simply spitting in a test tube and testing our genetics. How novel!

During the last year I have made my father, mother, husband and finally myself spit into test tubes and have our DNA extracted. I have been warned that this was not a good idea, to send off your DNA to be held in a database for fear someone might want to clone me one day. My curiosity in my own DNA far outweighs any one’s desire to clone it, and that counts triply for my mothers DNA, who is by far the most cynical about the entire process. She spat in one test tube of DNA then held off for a few weeks on the other kit, alternatively holding it over my head like a carrot with hopes I would brush my hair more often, and then decrying it as “ridiculous” and then confessing that, what she really wanted for her birthday was “ a purse” not a “rubbish DNA test.”

I gently reminded her that it was the only way to discover if her great grandmother was really a Native American. That would pique her interest just enough to work up a bit of spit. My mother has always wanted to identify herself with a minority for the shock value if nothing else as my mother pretty much looks like Heidi from the Swiss Alps.

Eventually she mustered enough saliva, no doubt by fantasizing about a bucket of fried chicken, to warrant a DNA test. Then you have to wait a month or two or more for them to process it before they send you a login to access a complicated portal that sucks more time from your day than Facebook.

In the meantime, distraught with anticipation I endlessly read blog articles about genetics, and became even more upset with the idea that if the DNA test came back without any Native American genes, it does not mean that my great great grandmother was not a Squaw, it just means we haven’t inherited any of her genes, which is entirely possible if not probable after four or five generations. Perhaps DNA was not the answer to all my questions after all.

My mother’s dna results arrived at the same time as mine. It felt like I was a talk show guest on Maury Povich and he just handed me an envelope and at any moment I was going to find out if the trailer trash guy my mother had been hanging around with years ago was really my father. I opened the envelope and there was the answer in my DNA 99% European, 1% Native American, and in my mother’s DNA 93% European, 7% Native American. The Squaw’s DNA had persevered five generations to convince us not to doubt my grandfather’s word, and to give us some sort of proof for the skeptic relatives and acquaintances, and for me an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

In my web surfing and narcissistic fascination with my own genome I discovered that far beyond tracing my European and Native American ancestry, I can actually discover what genetic predispositions to disease I carry around with me waiting to be flipped on like a switch through environment, stress, or just the ravages of time and age. So last weekend in between loads of laundry I hacked my genome.

While my mother was probably building a teepee in the backyard “for the grandchildren,” tying a chicken feather to her headband and practicing her drum circle chanting, I was hacking not only my own genome but my father, mother and my husband’s. It’s kind of like looking in their underwear drawers but 21st century style.

What it turned up was quite surprising. It turns out its not just my husband who says, “You are just like your mother.” We both have at least ten gene SNPs which give us something like a ten fold increase in risk for breast cancer, and my mother is herself a survivor. I will be getting a mammogram soon. Both my parents have longevity genes. I drew two short straws and inherited one gene for a shorter life span and increased risk of dementia with age. What a pity, looking after my parents as they approach 100 ( they both have a greater likelihood of living to 100) will probably kill me off at 70 or at least give me breast cancer but then again that could be all the booze. Turns out we – that means everyone in the family on all sides including my husband- have rampant addiction genes, for me I inherited more of the high likelihood to become addicted to nicotine genes, and a dodged the stronger desire for alcohol gene both my mother and husband have but we all have at least two or three more for alcohol dependency. The nicotine genes make me very very happy I somehow had the personal drive to quit smoking after my freshman year in college when I smoked about twenty cigarettes a day. That one year of smoking is probably still chipping off days from my genetically abbreviated lifespan- at least it was fun in a Bette Davis chain smoking kind of way.

To counteract the alcohol dependence genes my mother and I share a gene SNP that unifies us in commiseration, we share an SNP on the dopamine/serotonin feedback loop that leaves us with the genetic disadvantage of suffering from terrible hangovers. I always marveled at people who recover from hangovers by 3pm, for me they tend to get worse as the day goes on.

If hacking my genome didn’t have me running out the door to get a head to toe MRI, then it did at least depress me somewhat, but there are not just bad SNPs there are also good ones. Somehow my three genes for “unlikely to go bald” did not bolster my mood any, considering chemotherapy looked almost inevitable but you know I even have an SNP for intolerance or greater negative reaction to chemotherapy drugs. I now felt like I had read my own diary, and knew things I might be better off not knowing and I haven’t even said anything about my personality genes. Yes there are gene snps for personality too. I will devote an entire post to this next week.

Another reason I hacked my genome was to find out if I had a common and at the same time potentially catastrophic mutation in my methylation genes. Methylation is a necessary cellular process that governs many fundamental functions in the body. My father and I share a mutation on the A 1238 gene which can affect methylation but is far less problematic than the central mutation of the AC3677 gene which is far worse. Thank god we dodged that snp.

If you are interested in hacking your genome read this article by Suzy Cohen, which explains the process really clearly.

This is what I did… order a basic genetic test from for 99 dollars. They are better and easier to understand than and the other services out there. They will send you the kit, spit into the test tubes, send it back, wait, then they will email you. When your results are ready login and download the raw data. Then upload your raw data into:

for $30 dollars and it will list all your SNPS and if you have two plus signs you are homozygous for that SNP and will most likely display the trait, if you are heterozygous for the trait plus/minus you may or may not display the trait. If you have two minus signs you will not display the trait. There are good and bad predispositions and traits. Click on each one and it will take you to the page devoted to your SNP mutation on You better devote an entire day to this process. analyses your health snps but if you go another step further and upload your raw data for 5 dollars into:

you will find it analyses personality and other traits, like big boobs or small boobs, blue, green or brown eyes. Then do the same for every member of your family so you know who to blame for what you got in the genetic roulette of conception. I also uploaded my DNA to to find out what supplements I should and shouldn’t take- however a lot of what came back was contradictory- so best to have a naturopath or holistic doctor interpret the data in reference to your symptoms rather than a computer program… more on that from Chris Kresser.

Start with this Suzy Cohen article:

Then watch this podcast with Bulletproof diet man Dave Asprey and Dr. Ben Lynch of, the website I used to analyze my genome.

And this podcast by Chris Kresser called Methylation 101:

Chris says in his podcast that genes make up about 10% of what will happen, and your environment is the other 90%, so there is no such thing as inevitability just predisposition. Dr. Ben Lynch echoed this when he referenced the wonderful book Biology of Belief, which is on my reading list and found on amazon.

I wonder if there is a predisposition to being revolutionary, and if I submitted my DNA to the DAR I could be granted membership based on a gene SNP. Joking aside the DAR have just opened up DNA as a course to membership but you must have a direct male descendant and be able to match his DNA to yours which is a possibility in my lineage. I wonder if he would let me hack his DNA too. Ill Hack Yours, You Hack Mine.

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