In the past decade or two, another scientific revolution has happened. Only this isn’t one based on science, but one based on profit. Science has moved away from government-backed labs to private research labs, using science to create better products. From hair-growth and protein products to big pharma creating new medicine.
A recent service that perhaps was hardly used before (and if it was, to nowhere near the same effect), is home DNA test kits. Companies are using labs to store millions of DNA data records from across the globe to see what they can find. Currently, the emphasis is on ethnicity — seeing where customers lineage is from. There are other uses of such data though, such as health reports predicting which health conditions one might be predisposed to. Again though, this is coming from a private company and not a health professional. Results might be becoming increasingly accurate, but do not mistake it for a public service (though North Americans may be under less confusion regarding the detachment of healthcare and public services).
The importance of ancestry discovery
Ancestry discovery is important. It might not impact your day to day life knowing that you come from a Nordic, royal background, but you would want to know…
The biggest thing that comes from ancestry tests is the discovery of immediate family members. Many who undergo such DNA tests and ancestry research find out about a distant cousin they never knew about — and that’s from people who expect to find very little.
Of course, if you’re aware that your family history is confusing, or even a secret, then you have even more to find out. Particularly, if you’ve been adopted, or if you never knew your real parent. Many times, this has actually led to the discovery of a brother or sister, which can change your life for the better. Imagine meeting a ‘stranger’ at the age of 45 who is your long lost cousin, only to discover that they share the same mannerisms and nervous twitch as you.
Many are blown away in other ways. Those that are xenophobic, anti-globalist or simply profoundly patriotic have also had their world shook from these DNA test results. North Americans who believe in a strong Mexican border have discovered themselves to be 27% Mexican for example, in somewhat poetic fashion. Or those who believe that the concept of 100% white European even exists — which DNA tests have found to be untrue.
Now we’re left with multiculturalism and a reshaping of what we even believe the concept of race to be. Important to some, unimportant to others. What is undoubtedly interesting though is seeing which four corners of the globe you share DNA with, which is a great place to begin a family tree process.
How does the test work?
Ancestry and ethnic DNA test kits essentially use a swab of our DNA and compare it to a large database of other DNA, which of course has many other labelled variables. Analysing similarities from millions of other records, such technology can predict your genetic ethnicity.
Different companies will use different methods. AncestryDNA for example uses an autosomal DNA test which surveys someone’s entire genome at around 700,000 locations, which covers both paternal and maternal lineage.
From your perspective, though, you simply take a saliva or cheek swab in a container that has been sent to you. You send it to them back, and that’s it. You simply wait a few weeks to receive the report.
Who are the leading companies?
For a long time now, MyHeritage / AncestryDNA lead the pack. There are some key differences here. Firstly, the prices differ, though there is no point in quoting any single price as they change so often. This is the easiest thing to initially compare, though.
MyHeritage has perhaps the best European database, whilst AncestryDNA has a very comprehensive North American database. However, given that they both pinpoint your ethnicity mapped over the globe in its entirety, both do an excellent job, though AncestryDNA does have the highest number of geographical regions.
MyHeritage heavily involves itself in health testing. This is where you can receive back your genetic propensity for certain health conditions, your carrier status, as well as your overall fitness. These use polygenic risk reports, and you can receive up to 36 personalised health reports based on the data.
AncestryDNA is slightly more focused on bringing a very comprehensive ancestry service. They even have family tree features to help map your findings. With over 15 million users, you can’t help feel this is the one to use if it’s only an ancestry test you’re looking for.
23andMe is also a huge company, so these would certainly be the top 3.
What kind of information should you receive back?
The main thing you will receive back from such a DNA test kit, providing you didn’t do the health one, is a breakdown of your ethnicity in percentage terms. With usually nice visualisation of data, you may be greeted with a pie chart of “45% Irish, 17% Italian” and so on. For MyHeritage for example, this will be over 42 regions.
With AncestryDNA, they will search all their other users to find who you share your DNA with. This means you could directly be pointed to someone who shares your DNA. With over 15 million users, you would perhaps have to be somewhat lucky here for that to happen.
Finding out about your family lineage is a great present for a family occasion, too. For example, Christmas is a time for most where families get together and celebrate. DNA test kits can be purchased as a gift by filling in the recipient as the shipping address — separate from the one purchasing.
This of course means that the present is the kit itself, instead of the results. This would perhaps be even better as a gift, but somewhat difficult to do as it requires a cheek swab.