23andme makes it pretty easy to obtain your raw genetic data. For nerds like me, this is gold. So, if you want to know how to get your 23andme raw data and what to do with it once it’s downloaded, read on.
How to get your 23andme raw data
Accessing your raw genetic data is surprisingly straightforward. First, submit your saliva sample to 23andme. Then, once they’ve analyzed your sample, wait for them to analyze your genome. After your reports are ready, you can download a copy of the results in just a few clicks. Most of those clicks are to say that you agree to the conditions of download. This includes an understanding that once you’ve retrieved the data from the 23andme servers, they are no longer solely liable for any privacy and security issues.
To download your data, log into your 23andme account and then click on your name in the top right-hand corner. There should be an item in the menu saying, ‘Browse raw data’. Click to go to a page where you can download your data in full. There’s also an option to browse your data online.
If you want to browse online, just type in the name of a gene or a SNP. For example, you might type in APOB or rs188019153. Depending on what you enter, you’ll get a list of SNPs and/or details about that gene and SNP, including its Genomic Position, Variants, and Your Genotype.
If you choose to download your data and click the link, this will take you to a page where you submit a request for the data. You will then receive an email to the address associated with your 23andme account once your raw data is ready for download. This can take an hour; mine was ready within about five minutes.
After you’ve done this, your raw data download is available in perpetuity from this page of your 23andme account.
What does your raw genetic data look like?
To most people, a raw genetic data file will look like complete nonsense. The huge text file contains lines of your genotype call data, i.e. A, T, C, and G. In that form, the data is basically useless to anyone but a geneticist. But, upload it to Gene Food or another provider and you can get a whole host of insights you can’t get through 23andme.
If you can’t find your data file after downloading it, search your computer for ‘genome’. You’ll probably find a .zip file. If your computer automatically extracts zip files, though, look for a text file instead. You can open this file (once unzipped) in a text editor such as Word, notepad++, or Excel.
Why you might want your raw genetic data
Once you have your raw data, you can peruse it at leisure, without all the legal restrictions that affect what 23andme can and can’t tell you about yourself. Because 23andme actually collect and analyze your saliva sample, they are legally bound in how they present that data to you, in a way that other entities aren’t.
Some websites, such as Promethease, for example, can analyse your raw data based on information from Snpedia.com. This platform is a bit… raw, though, which makes it a bit hard to navigate for most folks without a science background.
For more, see: Top 5 Sites for Processing Raw Genetic Data
What you might want to do is to browse your raw data at 23andme and use this in combination with the National Institutes of Health’s SNP database. So, search your data for a specific gene, then copy and paste your SNPs into the database. You can then see how common the variant is in the general population and access links to all published research on that SNP.
And, of course, you can upload your data to Gene Food and get a custom diet plan created just for you.
Things to consider before accessing your raw genetic data
As I mentioned earlier, when you download your raw data, you agree to become legally responsible for its security. 23andme use various security protocols, including advanced encryption technology, to keep your data secure on their servers. If you download it, the onus is now on your to keep your data secure.
If you’re concerned about protecting your genetic data, consider encrypting the file and transferring it to a portable hard drive. That way, you can access it as needed but it isn’t vulnerable to hacking whenever you’re connected to a network.
Note also that browsing your data online or downloading it gives you access to data that is not used in 23andme reports. The data in those reports undergoes quality review, with a subset of markers individually validated for accuracy. This means that the data in your download which isn’t used in the reports may be less accurate. In other words, don’t rely on this for medical or diagnostic use.