How Accurate Is Dna Ancestry Test – If you’ve ever taken a DNA genealogy test, you probably already know that the results aren’t perfect. Sometimes you end up with completely different results than you expected. And different DNA test brands can produce completely different results.
But on Wednesday, 23andMe announced an update to its service that should give users more specific insight into where they come from. Instead of telling a customer that they are, say, “Scandinavian,” that customer may feel that they belong to Norway in particular. All told, the company added 120 new geographies to its test results. This is a big improvement from the 31 demographic labels 23andMe previously worked with.
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The update is thanks to a large expansion of the number of people in the 23andMe reference population, as well as the DNA data that the 23andMe algorithm measures your DNA to determine where you are from in the world. The growing number of people who have tested the company and share information about their heritage helps fine-tune the algorithm as well.
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When I took a 23andMe test last year, as part of a story I did about the accuracy of ancestry tests, the test told me it was only 3 percent Scandinavian and 5.5 percent Middle Eastern. I came from the middle, although I expected the number to be much higher. More of these areas are based on my family history. The majority of my DNA falls into broad categories like “largely Northwest European”. And the low amount of Middle Eastern DNA was likely due to the underrepresentation of people from that region in 23andMe’s data.
With the update, the picture I painted of my ancestors was closer to the picture painted by 23andMe Family Genealogy. It was also more specific. He could tell me not only that I was Scandinavian and Middle Eastern, but that I was Norwegian and Syrian.
“We can do this by finding exact DNA matches between a customer and more than 130,000 people with known ancestry in 120 regions around the world,” the company said in a blog post. “If an individual exactly matches five or more individuals from one of these specified regions, that region is assigned as the ‘past place of origin.’ Share with people in this region, in terms Adjusted for how many people are in the reference population. .”
The company noted that it also “remarked some populations for accuracy and better understanding,” such as Yakuts, who now appear as Siberians. The update will gradually roll out to users over the coming months.
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The 23andMe test update is a good example of how rapidly genetic technology is improving, and how with technological advances and larger data sets, consumer DNA tests are becoming more accurate. My own test results were much more specific and, based on my family history, they seemed more accurate than my results a few months earlier.
But in my case, the Middle Eastern and Scandinavian percentages were still considerably lower than I expected, a reminder that DNA ancestry testing should always be taken with a fairly large bucket of salt. Genetic DNA tests are more accurate for some groups of people than others. And even at their most accurate, they will still only be able to tell you how your DNA compares to other people in the world today, not where your ancestors came from. If you go back far enough, we are all connected. Most of our DNA is the same. The era of consumer genomics has arrived. Nowadays you can send a vial of your saliva in the mail and pay to see how your unique genetic code relates to all kinds of human activities – from sports to certain foods to skin cream, a preference for fine wine, even dating . Genealogy analysis companies are widespread and popular in this market, with the largest companies being 23andMe and AncestryDNA, both of which have more than 5 million users in their databases. These numbers reduce the number of human genomes in the scientific database. Genetic genealogy is big business, and it has gone mainstream. But how accurate are these tests – really?
First, a bit of genetics 101. DNA is the code in your cells. It is the richest and most complex treasure trove of information we have ever attempted to understand. The three billion individual lines of DNA, roughly, are organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes—although half the time, none of those pairs are the same (males are XY, females are XX). DNA is organized into about 20,000 genes (although there is debate over what defines a gene). And instead of genes, almost all of your DNA—97 percent—is a smorgasbord of control regions, scaffolds, and large chunks of repetitive segments. Some of it is just garbage, left over from billions of years of evolution.
Modern genetics has revealed a picture of great complexity, which we do not fully understand – although we are certainly far from the experiments of Mendel and his weight, which first identified the units of heredity in what we know as genes. During the 20th century, we gained a firmer understanding of the basis of biological inheritance: how genes are passed from one generation to another and how they code for the proteins that make up, or originate from, all life. In the 1980s, we identified genes that were mutated, making defective proteins, that could cause terrible diseases like cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy.
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By 2003, the Human Genome Project provided the complete human DNA sequence. One of the most important consequences of this effort is the advent of technology that has allowed us to read DNA at unprecedented speeds and at ever-decreasing costs. We can now sequence the genomes of millions of people for peanuts, and with this data come greater insight into deep questions about inheritance, evolution and disease. The human genome has infinite variation, and examining our DNA helps us understand what makes us human as a species and as individuals.
And the declining costs of gene sequences became commercial interests. Even when any company can set up shop, and for some cash and a vial of saliva, extract your DNA from the cells of your mouth and sequence your genome. Behemoths 23andMe and AncestryDNA, along with dozens of other companies, have done the same.
Questioning the validity of the results raises two potential problems. The first is a trivial thing: is the layout well done? In criticizing this business, it seems reasonable to assume that the data produced is correct. But there were some strange failures, such as the company that failed to identify a DNA sample as coming from a dog and not a person. A recent analysis found that 40 percent of variants associated with specific diseases in “direct-to-consumer” (DTC) genetic tests were false positives when the raw data was analyzed.
Assuming the tests are done correctly, some discrepancies may still occur due to differences in the companies’ DNA databases. Almost every DTC genetic test does not sequence your entire genome, but instead looks at positions in your DNA that are known to be of interest. When I was tested by 23andMe, they announced that I did not have a version of the gene that is strongly associated with red hair. Another parent company said I did. It simply reflects the fact that a company looked at different variants of the gene that codes for ginger hair.
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Assuming that the data generated are valid, the second question that arises is about interpretation. And this is where it gets murky. Many positions of interest in your DNA are determined by experiments called genome-wide association studies, or GWAS (pronounced gee-pink). Take a large group of people, who have a common characteristic. It can be a disease, such as cystic fibrosis (CF), or a common characteristic, say, red hair. When you sequence all the genes, you look for individual places in the DNA that are more similar in the test group than in the rest of the population. For CF, you will see a large increase on chromosome 7 because most cases of CF are caused by a single gene mutation. For redheads, you will see 16 or 17 peaks very close together, because there are several variants of the same gene that all give ginger locks. But for complex traits related to taste or diet or exercise, dozens of variants will emerge, all of which suggest a tendency toward a particular behavior as a result of your DNA alone, as measured in populations. the This applies even to something as simple as eye color: a gene variant linked to blue eyes is always one possibility.
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