On my mother's 35th birthday my father, who was 15 years older, took her for a candlelit dinner. I've been told I share his romance gene and I know I've inherited his genetic disposition to read novels, listen to classical music and enjoy fine Bordeaux. Unfortunately, there are other parts of his genetic makeup that are less desirable. Between the appetizer and main course my father felt a sharp pain in his chest. He told my mother he was going to the rest room. That wasn't his actual plan. Instead he left the restaurant and made a bee line for the hospital, which was a few hundred metres away - his gene stock included a marker for shyness and the idea of making a scene probably horrified him. He preferred to abandon my mother in front of her poached salmon than have ambulance men rushing around the dining room. He made it to the hospital but only after he'd collapsed en route with a coronary thrombosis. He died later that night. My mother sat at the table for 30 minutes before she organised a search party. By the time she discovered the truth my father was in a coma. Whenever I get a pain in my chest after too much curry or an excessive workout, I wonder if my father's genetic bequest has caught up with me. Then I remind myself that the other half of my gene pool consists of my mother who, at 81, is as strong as a bull elephant having survived cancer, a serious road accident and five children. Of course I still have questions about whether my heart resembles my father's but now, if I have the courage, they can be resolved, thanks to Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, and her new company, 23andMe. Wojcicki's venture is the first to offer retail genetic testing on an international scale and the impact could be revolutionary. The company's name is derived from the number of chromosome pairs in the human body - we have 23: Monkeys have 21, cows 30, chickens 39 and fruit flies have 4. These chromosomes contain our genes (otherwise known as DNA) and the human body has three billion base pairs of these - taken together they make up the human genome - with each sequence written using the letters A,T,C and G. A new cell gets made when an old cell splits in two - in the process the genome is copied but mistakes can be made and sometimes a single base pair gets left out, added or substituted - like the way a DVD copy of an original movie sometimes has dropouts. These errors create single nucleotide polymorphisms, known as SNPs (pronounced as 'snips'), which are like spelling errors. A gene that's supposed to be CCTAG gets copied as CATAG or CTTAG. Human beings share 99.5 per cent of the same genes and it's the 10 million known SNPs that make us different from each other. 'DNA is passed from parent to child, so you inherit your SNPs versions from your parents,' says Wojcicki, who launched 23andMe in 2006. 'Those differences can in turn influence a variety of traits such as appearance, disease susceptibility or response to drugs.' And it's those differences, especially the way they influence a person's vulnerability to disease, that has given Wojcicki an opportunity to build a business that could one day rival her husband's company in both size and influence. Whereas Brin's company helps people find stuff like old boyfriends, restaurants and movie reviews Wojcicki's can help you find out when you are likely to die and what from. It all starts with spit and US$1,000. After a client has paid the fee, 23andMe sends out a home collection kit. For now, Hong Kong residents can only use the service if they have access to a mailing address in the US or Britain. After spitting vigorously for five to 10 minutes most people should have enough fluid for the test - 2.5 millilitres is the desired amount. The sealed container is dispatched to an address in California's Silicon Valley where 23andMe use DNA decoding machines to assess the client's risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's disease and a host of other illnesses that might be lurking in the genetic future. The potential impact of such testing is hard to overstate. Doctor's will be forced to offer patients - particularly wealthy ones - medical care that is specifically tailored to their genetic make up. And drugs will be designed that subtly adjust genetic markers to improve a patient's chances of beating their genetic odds. The process used by 23andMe makes everything simple. After the sample has been processed clients get a private login for the 23andMe site ( www.23andMe.com ) and can use web-based interactive tools to explore their genome including what the latest genetic findings may mean for them. They can also use the site to connect genetically with friends, family, and others across the globe with similar genetic markers. This DNA version of Facebook could be one of the most fascinating aspects of the project. It will allow any 23andMe member with, for example, a SNP at rs11447295 - which would predispose them to prostate cancer - to connect and share their experiences. The website will also keep members updated on the latest genetic discoveries and what those advances may mean for a client's specific genetic variations. The 23andMe tests are not offered as a diagnostic device. What they do provide is a road map that shows where future dangers might lie. Using what 23andMe call their 'odds calculator' the company's test will indicate if somebody has an increased risk of breast cancer or diabetes and can indicate if drinking coffee will bring an increased risk of heart attack - it won't if the client has the enzyme that allows them to metabolize caffeine rapidly. They can also find out if they have an extra A on the SNP that affects the brain chemical dopamine - which will make it harder for them to learn from experience. Some people find this much too frightening but it's not going away. For now 23andMe and companies such as Navigenics use genotyping which does not sequence a person's entire genome - that costs about US$250,000 per client - 23andMe so far has 10 people signed up. However the first full person genome sequencing, conducted by the Human Genome Project in the US, cost US$3 billion. James Watson, who discovered DNA, had his sequence done for US$1 million and Craig Venter, who led the Human Genome Project, spent only US$350,000 on his. And the X Prize foundation - a US-based charity promoting research in many fields - has offered a US$10 million prize to the first team to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days for less than US$10,000 each. In other words the days when somebody can get a high resolution look at every disease that might befall them in the future for less than the price of a Gucci handbag are not far away. In the meantime, I'm waiting for my spit kit to find out if I have my father's heart or just his taste in sharp suits. But I won't be the first in Hong Kong to join 23andMe. More than a dozen local hypochondriacs have already beaten me to the punch - now I wonder if there's a SNP for hypochondria?