Finally, if you happen to meet a special someone on DNA Romance and want to see what your future child together might look like, there’s BabyGlimpse by HumanCode. Like a very advanced Punnett square, BabyGlimpse compares your and your partner’s DNA to create a profile that examines which traits your offspring might inherit, including things like ancestral DNA, eye color and lactose intolerance.
Specific tests for your father’s family include ‘Y-DNA’ tests which focus on the ‘Y chromosomes’ in your cells’ nuclei, passed down from father to son. Specific tests for your mother’s family include ‘mtDNA’ tests which report on a subset of DNA found in the ‘mitochondria’ (your cells’ energy factories), passed down from mother to son or to daughter.
In McCartney’s view, enough testing is already done in this country (sometimes too much) and there are issues of regulation and “informed consent”. “People are given very dramatic reasons to have these tests – it could help save your life, it could help improve the quality of your life – but where is the actual controlled evidence that these tests have ever done that? There’s no evidence that says doing these tests makes people become healthier.”
It could be that, in the main, genetic-testing kits such as these could, if promoted and used responsibly, end up zoned completely away from legitimate science and medicine and placed where perhaps they belong, firmly in the lifestyle-extra zone, if and when people think they’re “worth it”. Though, somewhat tellingly, when I ask Newman if he thinks that any of the genetic testing kits are worth buying, he instantly says: “No. I’d say, go to the cinema, watch some sport. Spend the money on something nice, something life-enhancing.”
More controversially, some of these kits profess to tell you your biological (as opposed to actual age) by measuring the length of your telomeres (in basic terms, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes, like plastic tips at the end of shoelaces). Other tests, such as 23andMe, predict higher risks of developing serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, including the test for BRCA1/BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer) that Angelina Jolie famously underwent, going on to have a preventative double mastectomy and surgery to remove her ovaries.
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.
One of the most popular reasons for doing a DNA test is to determine ethnicity. Many people start out on their DNA journey trying to learn about their ethnicity and end up discovering new family members, or learning something really cool about their family history. Is there such a thing as a DNA test for ethnicity, and if so, which one is the best?
Three of the companies, MyHeritage, Ancestry and FTDNA, use the Illumina OmniExpress chip and 23andMe uses the new Infinium® Global Screening Array chip from Illumina. The fact that all of the chips come from the same company may be confusing, leading some to believe that all tests are created equal. This is not the case. The chip used to process DNA samples is only one part of the process. Each company develops their own analysis of the results, references different population samples and provides different reports. In addition, each one of these DNA test providers offers different tools for you to analyze the data you receive, creating variations in results, accessibility and usefulness.
Most companies will use algorithms to compare the genetic variants uniquely associated to a reference population with those identified in the person being tested. This can help them exclude unlikely population groups from your ethnic mix, and ensure that the ethnic groups you’re shown to be composed of are more accurately reported. Although most companies will share the reference populations they use with their customers, they rarely provide information on the algorithms they’ve developed.
As well as showing you which ethnic groups you’ve inherited your DNA from, autosomal DNA tests can also be used to find living relatives and build your family tree. Many people attempting to build their family tree will often make breakthroughs in their research when they combine a DNA genealogy test (such as an ethnicity test) with traditional genealogical techniques.
Y-DNA Tests: Y-DNA testing examines the Y chromosome passed only from father to son and can therefore be used to gain a better understanding of your paternal line. This can be a very interesting study for those focused on surname research, especially since the Y chromosome can give information about deep and recent roots. Because only men carry this chromosome women will need to test their father, brother or other male relation to use this test for genealogy purposes. Again, FTDNA is the leader in this type of testing and has a wealth of information, groups and forums to help.