I Am A Neanderthal, And You Probably Are, Too

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[Editor’s note: James Altucher is an investor, programmer, author, and several-times entrepreneur. He is Managing Director of Formula Capital and has written ten books. If you want to get him something for Christmas, here is his Christmas list. His latest books are I Was Blind But Now I See and 40 Alternatives to College. You can follow him on Twitter @jaltucher.]

Ugh, I can’t write anything today. It’s the end of the year. Tomorrow is Christmas. You’d think I would have something to say.

Merry Christmas.

Oh wait, you can’t even say that anymore. I’m Jewish! I have to say something like Happy Holidays. I don’t even know what Hannukah is. Does any Jewish person know what Hannukah is? We made up some battle that has no historical basis so we could have a holiday around December 25, itself a holiday where the history was somehow manipulated to be on December 25. For all we know, 5,000 years ago some Ethiopian warlord had a birthday on December 25 and ever since then we’ve been trying to line up our calendars to match his.

Ok. Happy Holidays.

Oh, I know what I will talk about. It’s fascinating. I just got my results from 23andMe.com, a company started by Sergey Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki, to do genetic testing.

Do you know the site?

Here’s what I had to do. They shipped this vial to me and I had to spit into it until it was half full. You ever try spitting for five minutes? For some reason my wife, Claudia, watched me the entire time. There’s something sexually unpleasant about it.

Then I had to put the vial in a carefully sealed box. I live in New York State, which apparently is the one state in this great republic we live in where it is illegal to do any sort of genetic testing, so I am not allowed to mail the vial from this state. What’s up with that Andrew Cuomo? Do you have something to hide?

So I had to give the box to a friend of mine, Brian, who lives in New Jersey. “I don’t want to give it to him,” I told Claudia the week before. “Why not?” she asked. “He’ll just put it in his mailbox.” “He’s going to forget about it,” I said, “and then he’s going to feel pressure to do it and then will feel bad and I don’t want anyone to feel bad.”

Brian came over and Claudia gave him the box. He said to me, “Are you just doing this in order to get a blog post out of it?”

“No way,” I said, “this information is too personal. I would never blog about it.”

“Why is it sealed wrong?” he said. There were two flaps that were supposed to be tucked under but they were sticking out. The box now looked like this weird paper airplane. Claudia made her usual joke, “James went to get a PhD in computer science and now he can’t seal a box.”

Brian, to his credit, just nodded his head and said, “Got it.” And took the box. A few weeks later he wrote me and said, “Dude, I’m sorry I haven’t sent it yet. I’m putting it in the mail today.”

This morning, Christmas Eve Day, I woke up with an email from 23andMe saying the results were in. I could now know everything about my genetics. What sort of shit my mom and dad left me in their twisted DNA.

A few months ago I met with a friend of mine who had his genes tested. I asked him what the number one thing he learned was. He said, “I learned that my father is my real biological father.” I was surprised that this was news to him. “Apparently a lot of people cheated on each other,” he said, “and these genetic results are showing people the truth.”

Well, I look a little like my dad so no worries there. And my mom had polio so she wasn’t getting around much (sorry Mom).

But I did learn that my father’s ancestry is either Bedouin or an Ashkenazi Jew. Or both. I almost like thinking of myself as Bedouin. Like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. Either way, my ancestors are either from North Africa or the Middle East.

My mother’s ancestry surprised me. She is all northern Europe. Hmmm. Most people with her “haplogroup” are Scandinavian. I wonder if this means I should get blue contact lenses. I wonder if she knows she’s Scandinavian instead of Jewish. I wonder if she also knows that according to 23andMe, SUSAN SARANDON IS A DISTANT RELATIVE through her side of the family! Good thing I never married Susan.

I’m looking at this in realtime as I write this. They give me three warnings before they let me see the Alzheimer’s information. Okay, okay, I get it. Most people are wimps and are afraid to find out.

Am I related to Miss Scandinavia? She actually looks like a younger version of my mom a little.

Oh no. Apparently between the ages of 50 and 79 I have a 14.2 out of 100 chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as opposed to a normal 7.2 out of 100. One of my parents was kind enough to give me an APOE 4 gene (the other gave me an APOE 3 gene), which is associated with twice the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. Goddamn them! I knew one of them was a loser but I just don’t know which one.

I  have another 35 years to go before I’m 79 so hopefully one of you techcrunch geniuses will be able to figure out a cure before then. Do it for me, if anything. And I think I can handle the odds of 86 out of 100 that I won’t be diagnosed. Good for me. In the community section on 23andMe there are now support groups for people with the APOE4 gene. Like they need a 12-step program for having bad genes.

Moving on.

Parkinson’s. Again with the warnings. Okay, here we go: I’m at the upper end of average. Average is 1 percent to 2 percent of people get it. I’m at 1.9 percent. Okay, good. I’ll exercise a lot to get that extra dopamine kicking in.

The disease I’m most likely to get based on my genetics is Type II Diabetes. I have a 38 out of 100 chance of getting it when the average is about 25 out of 100. But there are environmental factors that include obesity, so I don’t think I will get it. That’s about it. Oh, I have an increased risk of glaucoma. Which once again proves my dad is my dad. He had it, his mother had it, her mother had it. And so on. We’re all good there.

So the worst that can happen to me is that I go blind, lose my memory, lose my ability to manufacture dopamine, and have a heart attack and/or stroke (thanks to the imminent diabetes). The best that can happen to me is that maybe I can call myself a Bedouin. Or a North African. I like that.

Good news for my two daughters: I don’t carry any mutations for breast cancer (Ashkenazi Jews are apparently at higher risk of this). Nor am I a carrier for “Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum” which must be some predisposition to like all movies with Renee Zellweger. No wonder I didn’t like Bridget Jones Diary despite so many others of Bedouin or Ashkenazi Jew descent loving the movie.

Genetically disposed to not like her.

Uh oh. Bad news. I have three times the risk of becoming a heroin addict. Which is too bad because I was thinking if I was ever in great pain for something then morphine or heroin would be my drug of choice. Hmmm. Have to file that one away. Can I at least take Percocet? It doesn’t say.

Here’s where they are completely wrong. Apparently I’ve inhererited an ability to “effectively learn from errors.” Hahaha. “People with the GG genotype learned to avoid choices associated with negative feedback relatively easily.” It’s taken me a long time to learn. I don’t know how effective I was when I was trying to pull myself off the floor. 

Oh, this is cool! 2.5 percent of my genome comes from Neanderthals. At last! I knew I wasn’t human. Oh wait. Unfortunately 2.5 percent is average. We killed them and raped them back in the day and all of us are basically 2.5 percent Neanderthal.

My kids will probably be surprised to find I have no risk of Tourette’s Syndrome. A lot of times when I randomly think of something embarassing that happened to me in the past, even from 30 years ago, I’ll shout out “No!” by accident. They’ve had to explain to their friends that, “Daddy does this sometimes,” and Claudia has gotten used to it. But apparently this is all me, and not from my genes.

Two other things that could affect my life. It turns out I am not likely to be a very good sprinter. I have no working copies of the ACTN3 genotype found in many world-class sprinters. So if a mugger is chasing me my best bet is to just give him all my money and not try to outrun him. I kind of suspected this one already.

Finally, I am genetically disposed to have a higher sensitivity to detecting the smell of asparagus in my urine after eating asparagus. This is true. Thank you 23andMe and God Bless You All.

[See also, "The 100 Rules for Being an Entrepreneur" and PLEASE follow me on Twitter at @jaltucher