The only patients having their genome sequenced are those with certain cancers or rare diseases. In some cases, family members may also be asked to participate. To take part, a patient must first be referred by a consultant, before being taken through an extensive consent process to ensure they know what participation in the project means. As well as the genome sequence, Genomics England asks for access to a patient’s lifetime medical records so that links can be made between their genetics and their individual disease. The NHS has made it very clear that, for many participants, taking part in this project won’t help them treat their disease. But it is hoped that the information they provide will go on to help treat others in the future.
Every company providing DNA testing has their own database of DNA samples. These are called AIM’s or ancestry informative markers. These markers were derived from the current populations of America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Every database is looking for a pair of genes located on a specific chromosome in a specific position. The way the DNA is evaluated is through the SNP’s or the single nucleotide polymorphisms. The SNP’s are chosen according to the frequency in a specific geographical population. Your SNP’s are compared to the most common SNP’s for the various populations in the company’s reference database. The results are not conclusive because they are based on common genetic variations. The probability for your DNA being from a certain country is based on a comparison between your DNA and the database. If you used a different company, they would have a different database. This means your results would most likely differ. According to studies, the lowest concordance is with individuals of South Asian, East Asian and Hispanic descent.
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.
Your review of the various testing companies is misleading and incomplete. The only test that can give information about recent relatives ( 5 generations back only) is the autosomal test. The others only give our ‘deep’ roots out of Africa migration thousands of years ago. But for the autosomal test to provide us names with whom we can contact, we have to give permission to have our email and name listed (and of course so do others). The tests that say we are such-and-such % of this or that ethnicity isn’t very accurate because, keep in mind, the wars and the spoils of wars that humans have been engaged in forever, mean we all have a mixture of genetic material from around the world. I can tell that the author(s) of this review did not really understand what these tests are about.
For about $20 less than other DNA ancestry services, MyHeritage DNA gives you an ethnicity estimate and access to DNA matches. It’s true value, however, lies in its free raw DNA uploads. If you’ve already taken a test with another company, MyHeritage lets you upload your raw data to its database for free. This feature is particularly useful if you’re looking for lost relatives, as you can pay slightly more for one test with Ancestry or 23andMe, which have larger databases, but still access MyHeritage’s database as well, which has 1.75 million users as of October 2018. With a 16-day turnaround, MyHeritage DNA was one of the first companies to send back our test results, but I found the contents of my ancestry report to be a bit off, especially when compared to my geographic ancestry reports from other companies. I was born in Korea and therefore expected at least a little of my Korean heritage to make it onto my ancestry map, as it did with other services, but MyHeritage didn’t report any Korean heritage. Instead, MyHeritage DNA reported I that I’m of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, and Mongolian descent. As I was looking for a reason to explain the discrepancy between tests, I discovered that there are large swaths of the map not covered by any of the service’s ancestral regions. The Korean peninsula is one of those areas, as are southern regions in South America, Africa and almost all of Australia and Russia. The oversight seems odd because MyHeritage could have easily included these missed areas inside a larger, generalized region instead of completely omitting them.
Some of the companies providing ancestry DNA testing have an option that will reveal information regarding any individual with similar SNP’s. It is even possible to acquire a list of individuals who may be included in the ancestry of your family. Once permission has been given, they are able to contact you and you can contact them as well. This may sound entertaining and harmless at first, but raises a lot of questions about what information people may not be ready to hear. You may already know specifically where you come from. Now imagine if you found out your real mother was actually your grandmother. Perhaps you were raised as you birth mother’s sister. You have to ask yourself if you could handle that type of information. Prior to signing up for an ancestry DNA service, you must be aware of all the potential implications that may be revealed.
AncestryDNA, 23andMe, HomeDNA, Living DNA, and MyHeritage DNA all provide reports of your ethnicity, some showing maps of where your ancestors lived along with information about the particular countries and regions. National Geographic goes further back, pinpointing where in Africa your ancestors came from and tracing migration patterns through to near-present times. It's less about your personal genetic makeup and more about who your ancestors were and how you're connected to the beginning of civilization.
The first kit I try is Thriva’s baseline test (£49), which, like all its products, checks your blood. The box arrives promptly enough (containing spring-loaded needles, a little collection tube, antiseptic wipes, plasters, etc), but there’s a problem. The idea is to prick your finger and massage blood into the tube, but I just end up making my fingers sore and what I get out barely smears the top of the phial. Maybe it’s just me, but it turns into a right faff. In the end, I take advantage of Thriva’s service to send someone out to take a sample of blood from my arm.