Review: Nebula Genomics Offers Health Analysis Via Genetic Testing

Can at-home Whole Genome Sequencing help you live a better life?

April 7, 2023 12:10 pm
A box kit from Nebula Genomics
A box kit from Nebula Genomics
Nebula Genomics

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Can you use your DNA to improve your health?

Nebula Genomics offers a little something more than ancestry information with their genetic tests. And what they offering is “Whole Genome Sequencing.”

I’m going to let them explain: “Whole Genome Sequencing is the current gold standard for genetic testing. While most other commercially available DNA tests (e.g. 23andMe and AncestryDNA) read your DNA at about 600,000 positions (~ 0.02%), Whole Genome Sequencing reads out over 6,000,000,000 positions in your genome (~ 100%). This generates a thousand-fold more information that is also more accurate, enabling more comprehensive reporting on traits and ancestry.”

So, is this just suped-up 23andMe? And what can more comprehensive genetics testing actually do to help me live a better and healthier life?

I tested out a Nebula kit earlier this year, and then I (a non-scientist) utilized my partner (a scientist) to see what I could learn about myself.

How it works:

After your DNA kit arrives, you’ll create a Nebula user account and register your kit with the provided ID number. From there, it’s a simple cheek swab to get the DNA, which you put in a tube and send back with your kit (there’s a pre-paid shipping label). It’ll take a bit of time to get results — for us, it was three weeks. 

What we liked:

  • The results are granular: When you get your report, they’ll divide the report by categories (e.g. Traits, Ancestry, Microbiome) and subcategories (e.g. within Traits you’ll find “Behavior & Perception,” or how DNA may impact, well, different behavior and perception traits.)
  • There are hundreds of new and updated scientific reports available in the Nebula Research Library that utilize your polygenic score, which estimates the genetic likelihood of exhibiting the particular trait they’re discussing. For instance, in a new study that discovered 20 genetic variants associated with susceptibility to inflammatory and infectious upper respiratory diseases (IURDs), Nebula says I scored in the 75th percentile … meaning I have an above-average disposition to IURDs. 
  • The company puts a heavy emphasis on privacy, noting that they’ve earned the GDPR Privacy Shield certification (and they won’t sell your data). 
  • Used another genomics service? You can upload your raw DNA data from 23andMe and Ancestry and receive a “free DNA report plus additional free traits [reports] frequently.”

What needs work:

  • Nebula works under a subscription model. The company claims they charge this fee because what they’re offering is “highly dynamic” and that they regularly add new reports based on new scientific discoveries. If you cancel your subscription, you lose access to those reports and data exploration tools (though you can still access your genomic data). You can also buy quarterly and yearly subscriptions, and there are three levels of access (Standard, Deep, Ultradeep). So prices could be as little as $299 or up to $1,174.

Other notes:

  • You can fill out some really simple surveys to get “credits” which can eventually get you a free whole genome sequencing test, though to get enough credit you’ll also need to refer friends to the service and probably upload data from other services, all of which give you different credit amounts. Depending on your budget and your interest in genetics, this might be a cheaper (but more time-consuming option)
A traits report by Nebula Genomics
Some genetic traits reports on this writer from Nebula

So, what did I learn about myself? Nebula states they want to use your DNA sample to help you “take action” … but my main issue, outside of the subscription model, is utilizing all this very dense scientific reporting to understand myself and do something about the results that worried me.

Let’s use some specific examples: My personal genomics results suggest I’m more likely to be lactose intolerant, have lower B12 levels, be nearsighted and have wet earwax, but I also have a greater than average longevity. Each result offers a brief explanation and relevant links to scientific papers … along with somewhat vague instructions on follow-up actions (for B12 deficiency, they mention that supplements are pretty easy to find. Thanks?).

But again, these are results that are “likely” due to genetics but not necessarily true — in the above examples, I’d say maybe half of those statements are accurate. And Nebula’s Oral Microbiome Report specifically notes that their results are for “research, information, and educational use only. This information is not medical advice, nor is it intended to be used for any diagnostic purpose.”

Reporting from the Nebula Library
The Nebula Research Library uses new research to analyze your “polygenic score”

The Ancestry report, meanwhile, offered no surprises (I’m predictably Scandinavian, Finnish and Northern European), with more detailed results only available via the 30x Whole Genome Sequencing Test. Gene Analysis (where you can examine any gene in your genome and identify important genetic variants and mutations) and Gene Browser (which allows for a direct look at the sequencing data that is stored in your compressed BAM file) are also exclusive to 30x Whole Genome Sequencing users. Basically, you’re not getting the full readouts unless you pony up. 

Final analysis

If you are a scientist or have one in your life, Nebula seems like a cooler variation on Ancestry and 23andMe. And the Library, which updates semi-frequently with new scientific research, does offer some interesting reading — turns out I have a very high genetic predisposition to REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) based on a December 2022 paper, for example.

However, the density of the science here, plus the lack of actionable follow-up — just how am I going to use this info to help my gut health? — and subscription billing, if you want full access, means you might be better off with something like a one-time purchase of a 23andMe Health + Ancestry Kit, which is also cheaper at $199 (Ancestry discounted their Health kit in 2022). But if you geek out over genetics and/or want improved control of your personal health data, Nebula may be worth the additional and ongoing cost.

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