I’ve been working on my family tree for decades. When I took the AncestryDNA autosomal test, the ethnic results matched my expectations, with mild variations. I knew my mother was of completely Irish heritage, but I came up 58% Irish, so apparently some of Dad’s British ancestors were Irish, not English, for instance. The section that matched me to other DNA test-takers was also accurate. I recognized a couple of my second cousins listed there. Other people had taken the test but hadn’t created a family tree, so there was no point in contacting them to figure out which ancestors we had in common. Be sure you’ve done some research on your own family–these kits do NOT tell you where you grandparents came from, or their occupations, or their names. They tell you how much of your DNA is common with certain nations or areas. I know I have some Germanic ancestors, so when my kit said “14% West Europe” and that turned out to include Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Lichtenstein, it made sense.
Hi Mark, Thank you for your article – very helpful. I am adopted from Asian country and live in Australia. I don’t know who my biological parents are and don’t know if I have any siblings. I have been researching through all these websites trying to decide which dna test to take – confused by it all. Your article has helped me to decide on FTDNA (family history and mtDNA) – hoping that it would give me ancestry makeup inherited from my bio parents and ancestry details on my mothers side (as I am female, limited to this test). In… Read more »
My wife recently purchased a dna testing for me. All I wanted to know was if I am part Native American, and or part Jewish. Well I was given a bunch of numbers and letters ans I found my parents haplogroups which were M and R1b but that in itself does not tell me anything else. Would someone explain to me what the breakdown means. How do you know if you are part of something with a bunch of letters? what letters or numbers in the group m or R1b would indicate american heritage?
Following a recent case in Phoenix, in which a patient who had been in a coma for nine years gave birth, Arizona lawmaker David Livingston sponsored a senate bill that would require certain occupations to submit DNA samples along with fingerprints for use by law enforcement. Though Senate Bill 1475 has been updated since its initial draft, it could set a precedent that normalizes collection of DNA samples from everyone, not just those suspected or charged with a violent crime. 
Haplogroups are a different story. Your maternal line haplogroup assignment is derived from a separate piece of DNA called the mitochondria. Since mitochondria is passed on only by mothers to their children, your maternal line haplogroup assignment only tells you about your mother's side of the family. Similarly, the paternal line haplogroup assignment is derived from a different, separate piece of DNA called the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is only passed from fathers to sons and only traces the paternal line.
In short – yes! It is amazing how far technology has brought us forward in the past few decades. Years ago, we could have only dreamed of getting our hands on this sort of information. Human beings are generally curious creatures so it comes as no surprise that we want to discover everything about ourselves which includes our past and where we come from.
Newman says that there’s a basic lack of “literacy” and understanding about genetic testing, among the public and even other health professionals. People are given false reassurances or made to panic (just because you have certain genetic variants, it doesn’t mean that you will develop a particular condition). Newman also makes the point that, in his field, counselling happens before and after testing and, while people with cancer or heart issues nearly always opt to have the test (as they can then take action to varying degrees), often people with conditions such as Huntington’s disease in their family decide not to go ahead because a diagnosis would change nothing for them. In any event, Newman says that, with genetic testing, while there are different levels, intensive counselling is always “absolutely key”.
Then comes the section about serious genetic variants. So far as “counselling” goes, previously, I’d waved away concern for my psychological welfare from the Observer’s science editor (“I’m a former goth,” I said. “My default setting is ‘doomed’”), but it turns out to be quite daunting. It doesn’t help that I initially mistake the full list of potential conditions for my own results, hence (thankfully briefly) thinking that I have higher risk factors for everything going. It makes me wonder – how many other people are going to do that?
Similarly, mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is used by direct-to-consumer DNA tests to trace your direct maternal lineage and determine maternal haplogroups. While most DNA lives in your cells' nuclei, mtDNA lives in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cells' powerhouses – their 37 genes are necessary for cellular energy production and respiration. Previous research suggested that mtDNA is inherited directly from your mother, but a recent study found that biparental mtDNA may be more common. This discovery may affect maternal haplogroup testing in DNA tests in the future, but for now, it’s safe to assume your results are correct.
23andMe started out by testing for genetic markers of diseases and medical conditions before rolling that back in response to the governmental concerns. It has since started slowly adding more health-related features with approval from the FDA. In April, 23andMe got approval to offer risk analysis for ten genetically linked diseases. The company now offers two options: Health + Ancestry ($199) and Ancestry ($99). The Health + Ancestry plan includes testing for genetic health risks and carrier status, as well as reports on your genetic weight, hair loss, and other traits.
There are mixed reactions to the use of ancestry DNA databases in criminal cases. On one hand, the rise of readily-available DNA information for millions of people has led to the arrests of several suspects related to long-cold cases, including the arrest of the Golden State Killer. On the other hand, law enforcement accessing private databases of genetic information from consumers raises several questions regarding privacy and ethical issues.
To prepare to take a cheek swab sample, you also have to refrain from eating for about an hour before. Swab kits generally contain more components, including one or two swabs and containers to protect the used swabs from contamination. We found it easiest to organize all the pieces first, to prevent any fumbling with a sample collection swab in hand. Some cheek cell kits put a stabilizing liquid in the sample containers, which required extra caution to prevent spilling.
The trick for collecting a saliva sample is to give yourself plenty of time to create enough spit to fill your tube to the fill line (not including any bubbles). You should not eat or drink anything for at least an hour before collecting your sample, so it’s best to plan to collect your sample before eating. Our testers collected samples before lunch and found that thinking about the upcoming meal made saliva production easier, particularly as we collected multiple samples. Planning ahead and making sure you stay hydrated before you collect a saliva sample helps as well.
Otherwise, the home-testing kits could be said to fit in with our increasingly health-conscious and, if you wish to be cynical, narcissistic times. What says you’re “special” more than finding out everything about yourself, right down to the nitty-gritty of genetics? In this way, these kits could be viewed as the latest plaything of the “worried well”. You could see how the scientific approach would appeal to the health-obsessed of all sexes and ages, your marathon runners and serious gym-goers, who take their fitness extremely seriously.
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