Food, Drink and Genomes

Around here, “Can you smell asparagus in your pee?” is totally appropriate party conversation. And “I’m U5a1*” is what people say instead of “I’m a Sagittarius.” We heard all this and more last night at the first-ever 23andMe User Gathering — a chance for the 23andMe community to get together, mingle, and learn from each other and us. About 50 23andMe users from the San Francisco Bay Area convened in our offices for drinks, hors d’oeurves and genomics. Maternal haplogroups were proudly displayed on nametags, and the room was abuzz with discussions of genes, odd traits, and family histories. Some users who had learned surprising things about themselves from our Personal Genome Service shared their stories with us. We love this! (Send your story to Others took the opportunity to ask our scientists and engineers questions about their data or our website. If you weren’t able to make it to the event, don’t forget you can always contact us at [minislides]
  • neilfws

    Asparagus and pee is a hot (and appropriate) topic in our household too. Perhaps you guys can address this topic of vital importance.

    Researching in PubMed throws up two alternative points of view:

    1. There are “producers” and “non-producers” of the smell.
    2. There are “smellers” and “non-smellers” of the smell.

    My own limited study (sample size one) is a subject who can smell others, but not their own – suggesting to me that they are a smeller but a non-producer.

    I’d have thought it most likely that there is variation in both the ability to produce and to smell. But perhaps I am wrong. If we were to look at SNPs in olfactory and metabolic genes, would we see distinct subgroups of people?

  • You’re right — there do seem to be two sides of the asparagus pee coin: production and detection.

    Your example of someone who can smell but not produce the smell is familiar to me — up until very recently I thought this was my situation. But after dilly-dallying in the restroom after a recent asparagus-containing meal, I realized that in fact I am a producer. I just never stuck around long enough to find out! Maybe there are gradients of detection ability and production capacity — you and I might be on the low end of both.

    We’re tackling the problem of the genetic basis of fascinating human traits like asparagus pee (as well as more serious traits and conditions) with the research arm of 23andMe: 23andWe. If you’re a 23andMe user, you can start helping right now by taking a few surveys!