23andme ancestry update

23andme ancestry update DEFAULT

When the genealogy company Ancestry released the latest update to its “ethnicity estimates” last month, a lot of people suddenly became more Scottish. Since 2012, more than 18 million people have mailed their spit-filled vials to the company, which analyzes the genetic material for markers that indicate regional heritage and sends back reports on the geographic areas from which each customer’s ancestors hail, broken down into percentages. The revision to these estimates elicited elation, panic—and no small amount of confusion.

“Greater understanding of why I like whiskey,” tweeted one customer.

“Yes!” crowed another. “There’s nary an animal alive that can outrun a greased Scotsman,” the Tweet continued, punctuated by a meme of a shirtless Groundskeeper Willie, the cartoon embodiment of Scottish stereotypes from The Simpsons.

An American woman blamed her Scottish ancestry for her loud mouth, while another man seemed more distressed by the news: “Help before I go out and buy a kilt!,” he tweeted @Ancestry.

Jokes, jokes, jokes. And yet, they reveal some popular misunderstandings about what these tests really mean. Of course, nobody actually became more Scottish. Ancestry’s scientists simply refined the company’s algorithm, expanded its reference pool of DNA samples, and upped the number of so-called “ethnicities,” or regions, represented in the company’s database from 61 to 70. A week later, FamilyTreeDNA followed suit. MyHeritage executives have also intimated that an update is nigh. But the social media reactions suggest an erroneous belief, one that these companies’ marketing sometimes helps advance: that race and ethnicity are genetically determined, and that they tell you something about your essential nature.

It’s a sticky notion with a grim history, deployed to justify everything from slavery to contemporary discrimination. And it’s been making a comeback, resurrected by the far right and white supremacists who rally around the idea of “pure blood,” by which they mean all-white European ancestry. At a rally just last week, the president invoked the “racehorse theory,” a Nazi-reminiscent slice of pseduoscience that posits a genetically superior class of humans, analagous to thoroughbred horses. While consumer DNA companies are far from pushing eugenics, they nevertheless traffic in stories about identity, and these stories can involve some decidedly unscientific assumptions.

In January, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of British Columbia published a study showing how taking a DNA test could influence a person’s belief in race essentialism, or the idea that racial differences are innate. First, they gave all their subjects a quiz to determine how much they understood about genetics. Then they asked everyone to test their DNA. Their results showed that, for non-Hispanic white-identifying people who were highly knowledgeable about genetics, their post-spit-test scores on an assessment of essentialist beliefs went down nearly 10 percent. Good, right? Except that among testers who claimed no knowledge of genetics, race essentialism increased nearly 12 percent.

“Educational materials or online genetics modules for future test-takers could help prevent these tests from advancing historically destructive views,” the researchers wrote, noting that while genealogical geeks are often highly motivated to make sense of their results, many others are not. For example: Your aunt who just wanted some medical information and wound up with bonus ancestry data. “Essentialist views of race have significant negative consequences for intergroup behavior, including less willingness to interact with other races, greater endorsement of racial stereotypes, and association with traditional and modern racism,” the researchers continued. “These beliefs have historically led to eugenicist movements, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and genocide.”

So before you run out to go kilt shopping, it’s important to understand what these tests actually mean, as well as their limitations. First up: the term “ethnicity.” It generally connotes shared nationality, language, and culture, but even people who study race and ethnicity acknowledge disagreement about the precise definition of the term. Suffice to say, geneticists concur that it’s a social construct. Altogether, 94 percent of genetic variation occurs within so-called racial groups, meaning there’s much more biological difference within races than between them. This holds even when researchers study regional ethnic groups; they find a lot more genetic diversity inside each group than between different groups.

“I don't like to use the words ethnicity or race in science, because these things are not really determined by science,” says Janina Jeff, a population geneticist who hosts the podcast In Those Genes, where she uncovers lost African American identities through genetics. “Particularly when we talk about the African genome, if we use the word ethnicity we are completely erasing hundreds and sometimes thousands of cultures.” Throughout history, Africa has been home to thousands of tribes with distinct cultures, religions, and languages that aren’t captured in genetics companies’ larger ethnic regions and don’t map onto genetic categories.

“When I think of ethnicity,” Jeff continues, “I think of a cultural identification or expression, which may or may not align with your genetic ancestry.”

For what Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage label “ethnicity,” Jeff instead uses a term preferred by geneticists: “most recent common ancestor,” or the ancestor from whom everyone in a particular set of organisms descends. Since our number of ancestors doubles with every generation as we move back up our family tree, the further back we go, the more our branches start to intersect. Eventually, all humans will reach a theoretical common ancestor (known as “mitochondrial Eve” on the matrilineal side). Two people with ancestry from the same geographical area will usually share a common ancestor more recently than two people with heritage from different parts of the globe.

So how does Ancestry determine those so-called ethnicity estimates? Since the company doesn't possess the DNA of our long-deceased relatives, they use the next best thing: living proxies. These are called “reference panel groups,” and they are comprised mostly of Ancestry customers with long family histories in a single region.

People with shared ancestry typically have some genetic markers in common, short DNA sequences at a particular location on the chromosome. Known as “ancestry informative markers,” they show up as “single nucleotide polymorphisms,” or SNPs. All that means is that there’s a genetic variation at a certain location on your genome—for example, a cytosine base instead of thymine at position 42. Human genomes are around 99.9 percent identical, so Ancestry zeroes in on 700,000 of the spots where they vary.

People tend to inherit groups of SNPs together, called a haplotype. When Ancestry analyzes your DNA, they’re dividing it up into smaller chunks and assigning each chunk an “ethnicity” by comparing the haplotype to those of people in the company’s reference panel groups. Their recent update includes 70 regions—up from 61—each represented by a reference panel.

But making this match is not an exact science. Two people from different regions can still have a genetic marker in common, and not everyone from a given region shares the exact same ones; they simply tend to have a significant number in common. And each country in the world doesn’t have its own specific marker. “There is no Korean SNP or French SNP,” says Barry Starr, Ancestry’s director of scientific communications. “So it really comes down to probability: This particular SNP at this particular spot is a bit more common in France than it is in Korea. It’s the building up of all those small probabilities that gives you the strength to make a prediction.”

A genealogy’s company’s accuracy is only as good as its reference panels, however. That’s why different companies can give you different results. Ancestry added 4,687 people to its reference pool during its most recent update, upping the total to 44,703. The number of people within each regional group varies widely though, from 23 (the Burusho people, who live in northeastern Pakistan) to 4,791 (indigenous people from Puerto Rico).

Since a given region still contains some degree of genetic variation, it’s possible for a reference group to miss some of that diversity. To use an analogy, if you selected 23 New Yorkers that all happened to live in Little Guyana and made them a reference group for all New Yorkers, you might not get a representative sample of the city. Haplotypes common amongst Guyanese people would probably be overrepresented.

Jeff says that anything more granular than continent-level estimates involves some big-time guesswork. “We're making a huge assumption that this variant is the only variant, and that these populations are somewhat of a monolith,” she says. “We really do need more information to dig down to more detailed population differences within these continents.”

If Ancestry doesn’t have a reference population that matches your specific ancestry, the algorithm will assign you the next closest region. There’s no reference group for Denmark, for instance, so people with Danish ancestry “tend to get somewhere around a quarter Germany, Norway, Sweden, and England,” says Starr. Lacking specificity, the algorithm is searching for haplotypes most similar to those found amongst Danes—but the result can be misleading. “You wouldn't want them to think, ‘Oh, I have one grandparent from [each country],” says Starr.

Countries like Denmark—and all countries to some degree—pose a challenge because of what’s called admixing, which is basically a jargony word for mixing. Human history is one of migration, of invasion, of populations intermingling. That makes it tough to distinguish certain regions from one another, especially neighboring ones. Germanic tribes and Scandanavian Vikings both settled in the British Isles, for instance, meaning a person from modern-day England might have DNA from all of those regions.

And of course, nations are human inventions, their borders cropping up and shifting over time. What we call France has ballooned and shrunk over the centuries, overlapping at times with modern-day northern Italy. “In our previous update, a lot of people in Northern Italy were getting France,” says Starr. “If you look at history, it makes sense because that part of the world was not very distinct. But in this update, we were able to split Italy into North and South. People from Northern Italy got Italy back, so there’s lots more Northern Italy than France now.”

That’s also the reason all those people suddenly became more Scottish. The update separated what had previously been two regions in the Ancestry database—England/Wales/Northwestern Europe and Ireland/Scotland—into four: England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Before the change, “Scottish people typically got a lot of both Ireland & Scotland and England, Wales & Northwestern Europe in their results—often almost a 50/50 split,” a post on the company’s website explained. “Since Scotland appeared in only one of the names, some people wondered what had happened to their Scottish ancestry. It was there all the time, but ‘hidden’ under another name.”

In a white paper posted to the company’s website in September, Ancestry scientists issued a self-report on their accuracy: They gave themselves a B. Using a sampling of reference panel members, whose ancestries they already knew, they ran their DNA through their algorithm to see if it would assign each person to the correct region. They found their algorithm to be correct 84.2 percent of the time on average, but for identifying certain groups, such as indigenous Cuban people, their accuracy rate sank as low as 32 percent.

Access to indigenous people’s DNA is ethically fraught, making it tricky to come by—for reasonssuch as difficulty obtaining informed consent, concerns about exploiting indigenous people for profit, perceptions that scientists are more interested in preserving endangered tribes’ DNA than their members, and worries that the test results could be used as tools of continuing oppression—for example, to deny people land rights. As a result, the DNA of indigenous people is often underrepresented in genetic databases, leading to results that can be misinterpreted. “For example, when Elizabeth Warren said that she had Native ancestry, what she was actually referring to was Latinx and South American reference populations and calling that indigenous American,” says Jeff. Ancestry gets around this by using DNA from admixed populations and identifying the segments that correspond to indigenous groups. They use only that portion in their reference panel, meaning they don’t need people with long family histories in a single region.

Ethnicity estimates also contain statistical noise, which is particularly relevant for those results in the low single-digit percentages. “When they're that small, they can come and go, because they could be noise or a misreading,” says Starr, meaning you might see your result saying that you are 2 percent Melanesian appear, disappear, and reappear everytime there’s a new update.

Still, some users treat these smidgens as meaningful. After the recent Ancestry update, one user Tweeted: “I’m a little excited that I’ve consistently been getting traces of Korean ancestry (however tiny). I’ve always been drawn to Korea.” Those traces might be evidence of a distant Korean ancestor, sure. Or they might be a statistical mishap.

On the flip side, just because your DNA doesn’t contain a certain ancestry-informative marker doesn’t mean it’s not part of your heritage. Since you inherit roughly half of your DNA from each parent, half gets left behind. The sections you inherit are fairly random; you get a different alphabet soup than your (non-identical twin) siblings, for instance. So it’s possible that none— zero!—of your Swedish great-great-great-great-grandmother’s DNA made it into the mix you happened to inherit. That doesn’t mean you don’t have Swedish ancestry.

Perhaps most crucially, geographic ancestry isn’t a predictor of behavior, psychology, or personal preferences. The area of the genome that Ancestry examines for place-based markers is separate from the genes affected by natural selection, like the ones that code for the taste receptors on your tongue. So they can’t tell you why you like whiskey, or why you’re loud, or why you’re suddenly beset by the urge to go kilt shopping.

But certain marketing suggests otherwise. One 2018 Ancestry ad urged viewers to discover their “greatness.” Over footage of a pirouetting figure skater, the narrator intoned, “You can find out where you get your precision.” A pie chart flashed on the screen: Scandinavia 48 percent. “Your grace”—27 percent Asia Central. “Your drive”—21 percent Great Britain.

“They're tying these traits to your DNA and to a particular ethnicity,” says Katie Hasson, program director on genetic justice at the Center for Genetics and Society. “There's a real danger that it reinforces the mistaken, outdated, and dangerous idea that race and ethnicity are biological, and all of the ills that have come along with that.”

Here’s another example: One 2016 Ancestry commercial featured Kyle, a 50-year-old man from Queens who was raised culturally German, donning lederhosen, eating schnitzel, performing in a German dance ensemble. He takes a DNA test and discovers that— lo!—he’s got zero German DNA, and half of his ancestry comes from Scotland, Ireland, and/or Wales. “So I traded my lederhosen for a kilt,” he says with a smile, casually tossing aside five decades worth of culture and community.

Underpinning Kyle’s cultural cosplay is the idea that there’s something innate about Scottishness; that DNA alone grants instant membership in Club Scotland and all the associated cultural trappings. (Ancestry is not alone in pushing the message that DNA can unlock your hidden true self. One 23andMe TV spot invited viewers to “know more about you” and featured a woman carousing with locals and performing vaguely stereotypical activities in the countries that matched her DNA results. In another commercial, MyHeritage promised to help customers “find amazing stories hidden within.”)

Not so fast, say sociologists. Although many people look to genetic ancestry for answers about where they belong, this line of inquiry risks infringing upon communities for whom those identities are central and important, says Alondra Nelson, president of the Social Science Research Council and author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation. “When a community has rules about what it means to participate, a genetic inference does not allow you entrée.”

“Culture is not something you inherit through your genes; it’s something you live through your experience,” echoes science journalist Angela Saini, author of the 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science. “If, say, you were not raised in an Italian family and didn’t have any exposure to Italian culture, but found out you had ancestry in Italy, what does that tell you? You’re not then suddenly more likely to like eating pasta or have a different personality. What I find interesting is what people imagine these results tell them, and what people often do is resort to racial stereotypes.” In other words, for someone with no real-world experience of what it means to be Italian, a sudden ethnicity estimate can’t provide that.

In her book, Saini argued that scientific racism has persisted in part because it’s baked into the foundation of modern scientific study. The “father of scientific racism,” a 19th-century Philadelphian named Samuel Morton, tried to prove racial differences in intelligence by measuring skull size. Carl Linnaeus and Charles Darwin both racially classified people; Linnaeus erroneously assigned race-based personality traits. While mainstream scientists rejected eugenics and race science after World War II, those ideas persisted underground, in segregationist-funded, pseudoscientific journals like Mankind Quarterly, an anthropology journal first published in 1961. White nationalists subsequently invoked this research to support claims of genetic superiority. Although legitimate studies of genetics consistently reaffirm that race is a social construct—albeit one with very real influence—the idea that we can biologically categorize people this way endures, even seeping into mainstream science in the form of studies and books advancing racist hypotheses.

This has played out during the pandemic through news of Black and brown people contracting and dying from Covid-19 at disproportionately high rates. Race is often a proxy for other factors like economic class and social discrimination, which can have a huge bearing on health outcomes. But absent that context, these statistics can produce the impression that the difference is behavioral or biological. So in September, a group of more than 70 scientists from the realms of genetics, sociology, public health, and medicine published a letter in Science calling on the National institutes of Health to address the misuse of race as a category for measuring human biological differences, citing concerns that Covid-19’s effect on communities of color would be misattributed to innate differences. “In 2016, we called for the elimination of the use of race as a means to classify biological diversity in both laboratory and clinical research,” they wrote. “Since that time, little has changed.” They called on the NIH to lead education efforts for both scientists and the public and to develop best practices for characterizing human genetic diversity in scientific research.

For those curious about their roots, genetics experts consulted for this story say, genealogy tools and family tree builders are better suited to those inquiries. DNA testing can even help fill out family trees, particularly for communities dispossessed of their histories. “I do accept that for many people, especially children of immigrants and children of people who have slavery in their ancestry, who have been wrenched from a culture or who have lost touch with their geographical roots, sometimes DNA testing can feel like the only way to reclaim those roots,” says Saini.

As for those ethnicity pie charts, “I’m not sure these tests can tell people what they want to know,” says Hasson. “If you want to know about your family history, your family is a good place to learn about that.”

And as the sudden surge in Scottishness illustrates, if you rely on a consumer genetics company to estimate your heritage, it can change on a dime. That portrait will always depend on who’s in the pool of proxies and how each company’s algorithm is programmed to sort DNA markers into location-based groups.

In an email from a company spokesperson, Ancestry acknowledged these criticisms. "Through ongoing innovation we help customers create a more complete family portrait that continually yields new discoveries as science and technology advances,” they wrote. “While DNA does not change, the science we use to analyze it does."

These results have always been a moving target. Nelson recalls attending a conference back in the early days of consumer DNA testing, where the founder of a now defunct company revealed that he was 25 percent sub-Saharan African. “He would say, ‘You would never know by looking at me,’ and it was supposed to be a kind of, ‘Gee whiz. Look at the things you don't know about yourself that ancestry testing can tell you,’” she says. When she ran into him a few years later, he’d gotten an update: his Sub-Saharan ancestry had fallen to 8 percent. “For him, it was like, ‘Our assumptions change. The reference database changed,’” she recalls. But to her, as a social scientist who understands how important identity is, she continues, “this is a core thing to human society.”

After all, she points out, the United Nations recognizes personal identity as a human right. It’s serious business. And absent the genetic counseling available in a medical setting, consumers are left to their own devices to interpret their results, guided by mixed messages that remind us that we’re all one human family but also play up ethnic differences that may not even exist. “I think there could have been a greater sense of responsibility and a greater appreciation of the gravity of overturning people's conception about their families and their lives and their identities,” says Nelson. “It's not a folly to tell somebody they're one thing and then tell them that they're something else.”

More Great WIRED Stories

Sours: https://www.wired.com/story/your-ethnicity-estimate-doesnt-mean-what-you-think-it-does/

23andMe updates its ancestry reports, but they’re still not perfect

23andMe, co-founded by CEO Anne Wojcicki, has deployed its latest update, featuring interactive ancestry details, cultural insights about food, art and language, and the option to order a physical ancestry book. Starting today, customers will be able to see more granular ancestry results from more than 1,000 regions, as well as 33 population-specific pages about cultural information.

Before this update, 23andMe simply said I was 12 percent British and Irish. Now, it’s able to break down where in the U.K. my ancestors likely lived. 23andMe, however, was not able to detect more granular data in Ireland.

It was also unable to detect additional evidence in Nigeria, where 23andMe says 25.2 percent of my ancestry comes from. That’s likely because, even though 23andMe has made efforts to grow the number of African and African-American people in its data set, it’s still lacking. Though, it’s worth noting no ancestry service has it all.

“The odds of receiving more granular results from a particular region (in your particular case, Ireland or Nigeria) depends on how much Nigerian DNA someone has and how many individuals are in the 23andMe reference dataset,” 23andMe Ancestry Group Product Manager Robin Smith told TechCrunch. “The reference dataset is continuously growing, and customers should be seeing even more refined ancestry results later in the year.”

Generally speaking, customers who share exact matches between their DNA and reference individuals from a particular region could potentially see granularity in regions of Anambra, Edo, Imo, Lagos and Ogun State in Nigeria, 23andMe spokesperson Christine Pai told TechCrunch.

It’s worth noting Ancestry says just 1 percent of my DNA comes from Nigeria and that the bulk of my African ancestry comes from Cameroon and Congo. But when I first signed up for Ancestry, the company said 39 percent of my ancestry came from Nigeria. This is all to say that these tools are imperfect and always subject to change. And, depending on where the bulk of your ancestry comes from, it may change dramatically.

“I’m not surprised you’ll get different results from different companies,” Dr. Jennifer Raff, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kansas told TechCrunch back in September. “They have their own proprietary info based on those samples. If one of them has lots of individuals from a particular region and the other company does not, you’re more likely to show up as having ancestry from that region whereas if the other company doesn’t have that data represented in their database, it’s going to show up as a different population.”

This is problematic, given many people turn to these DNA testing tools to figure out more about who they are and where they come from. I’ll keep this brief, but I was pretty frustrated when I went from thinking I was very Nigerian (39 percent, according to Ancestry) to barely Nigerian (about one percent, also according to Ancestry) to then again a fair amount of Nigerian (25 percent, according to 23andMe).

“This is a problem and it’s one we need to educate people about — that your genetic ancestry is not your identity,” Dr. Raff said. “Also, those numbers really reflect what is in their database, and what’s in the database is largely reflective of genetic variations we see in present-day populations. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s reflecting your actual ancestors.”

I asked Dr. Raff if DNA testing is just a load of crock, but she said it’s not.

“It’s not complete bullshit but there’s also a lot of uncertainty there,” she said. “We [humans] like definitive answers. We’re trying to use this as a tool for exploring our past. We like to have definite answers when we’re doing these explorations, but unfortunately, it’s not there yet.”

But that’s not entirely the fault of 23andMe and Ancestry. In order to be as accurate as humanly possible, these companies would need to sequence every person on the planet. That’s not currently feasible, so in the meantime, Ancestry points to its confidence levels.

“We take this pretty seriously and we do want people to understand what is something they can put money in the bank on, and what they should take with a grain of salt,” Ancestry Chief Scientific Officer Catherine Ball told TechCrunch back in September.

She added that Ancestry tries to be transparent about confidence levels. And, in Africa specifically, “it’s one of our most exciting opportunities and greatest challenge” due to the enormous amount of genetic diversity on the continent.

Additional reporting by Sarah Buhr.

Sours: https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/15/23andme-updates-its-ancestry-reports-but-theyre-still-not-perfect/
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DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

12-31-2020: Update to this article. 23andMe has reversed their position and provided ethnicity updates to both V3 and V4 chip testers. The status of V2 kits is unclear. Those kits show an update date in early December, but no update tag and nothing has changed in their ethnicity results. Additionally, 23andMe has restored the matches that were removed – although it’s unclear whether or not they have simply restored existing matches or if the previous threshold of 2000 matches is back in place as well. They have also restored some search functionality, such as within user-entered notes, but not all functionality. For example, you still cannot search matches by haplogroup.

Original article begins here:

Did you test with 23andMe prior to August 2017? If you were among the millions of customers who tested in the decade between 2007 and 2017, you tested on the V1-V4 chip.

Unfortunately, 23andMe has made the decision to no longer provide ethnicity updates for customers who have NOT tested on the current V5 chip.

Moving to the V5 chip is not an upgrade – it’s a completely new test that customers must purchase and spit-to-submit again. This means that if your family member that you purchased a test for died, you’re just out of luck. Too bad – so sad.

Last week, 23andMe published this article detailing their new ethnicity improvements. Everyone was excited, but then the article ended with this spoiler at the very bottom.

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I still can’t believe my eyes.

What – No Ethnicity Updates?????

In this industry, no company that I can recall has EVER failed to update ethnicity for earlier chips. Especially given that ethnicity is the hook that companies have used to entice many, many customers to test.

When FamilyTreeDNA changed from the Affymetrix chip to the Illumina chip in 2011, they retested every single customer FOR FREE.

FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and Ancestry have continued to update results for all customers on any chip level. Those companies would be publicly skewered alive if they did anything else.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a betrayal of the trust of 23andMe customers.

We know now that companies can easily utilize imputation for equalizing different chips for genealogy purposes. All three other major companies do exactly that with their own tests and in the case of MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA, with transfers from the other three major companies, including 23andMe’s current and older chip levels. Of course, imputation “fills in blanks” with “realistic values,” which is not appropriate for medical testing – and the underlying goal of 23andMe is medical research, not genealogy

Therefore, genealogy customers are being penalized in an effort to force them to the V5 chip if they want to view their new ethnicity updates or have more than 1500 matches, and then, only with a subscription.

This “sales strategy” is simply not acceptable.

Matches Restricted

This no-ethnicity-update revelation comes on the heels of 23andMe reducing the match threshold to 1500 FOR ALL CUSTOMERS unless customers have tested on the V5 chip AND subscribe, both.

I wrote about that change, here.

That’s Not All – No Search by Common Surname or Ancestral Location

The genealogy community continues to discover more losses. Hat tip to my blog subscriber who noticed that customers can no longer search by common surname or ancestral location.

23andMe confirmed that change in an email saying:

  • You can search for profile names and current locations in the DNA Relatives search section.

Wow, I don’t want my matches knowing where I currently live. is that really what’s happening? Surely not.

But sure enough, here’s one of my matches, minus their name of course.

This gives me cold chills. This information should never, ever, be available unless the tester gives it directly to another specific person.

Why would 23andMe ever implement a feature like this that causes potential physical security risks to their customers? I’d wager most people have no idea that this information is displayed to all of their matches. Fortunately, it’s only displayed if you specifically enter the information.

To check your location status, remove or update this information, click on the down arrow beside your name in the upper right-hand corner of your 23andMe page, then on “Settings”.

Scroll down and click on “Edit Enhanced Profile.”

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Make any changes.

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This is also the section where you enter other information that will help you connect with matches in a meaningful way. Be sure to share a link to a family tree someplace. While 23andMe is discontinuing some of the features that are important for genealogists, that makes it even more important to utilize the remaining features.

23andMe also confirmed that:

  • You can no longer search for family surnames, other locations, or any other user entered information.

This change is infinitely sad, because surnames, especially unusual ones are critically important to genealogists, and in combination with locations.

You can filter by ancestor birthplaces, but that only means through the grandparent level.

Not terribly useful for genealogists, and the US is a very big place. Knowing someone’s grandparents were born in the US is not helpful. However, if I have an ancestor from a location like Germany, this might be more useful.

You can also filter by SOME of your family surnames, but not all of them. Apparently, only your top 20 in terms of how many people share that surname. Just take a guess which one is highest on my list. Probably yours too.

My own surname and that of all 4 of my grandparents is missing from this list. I don’t find an ancestral surname until one of my great-grandparents’ surnames, Miller, appears. This list is really only a list of the most common surnames in the US that I happen to have in my genealogy.

No Haplogroup Search

Another feature that has disappeared is the ability to search your DNA Relatives by haplogroup. Granted, they were only partial haplogroups, but they could rule out a lineage connection to your direct matrilineal line or, if a male, your patrilineal line. If you knew your grandparents or other haplogroup lineages, you could do the same for them.

But not anymore

Where Are the Genealogists?

How has 23andMe moved so far away from the genealogy community? This feels like death by 1000 tiny cuts. Whittling away our features along with our trust.

At one time, 23andMe had a genealogy ambassadors program where experienced genealogical ambassadors represented the genealogy community and provided input. Unfortunately, 23andMe dissolved the program a year or so ago, but then again, they didn’t seem to listen much to their ambassadors anyway.

Health AND Ancestry

23andMe is increasingly pushing the health AND ancestry test on the V5 chip. I’d wager their medical and research partners want specific data on this chip that’s not available on previous versions.

When clicking on my V4 account, the upgrade available is only for both health and ancestry. There is no “ancestry only” test available like there used to be.

The $99 price for the V5 upgrade is the same for my V3 kit. Yes, I tested twice (three times actually on V2, V3, and V4) to understand the matching differences between the V3 and the V4 chip.

Truthfully, given the way 23andMe is treating their current clients, I have absolutely no desire to gift them with my health information to turn into revenue.

Consent or WithDraw Consent to Share Genetic Information

While 23andMe can utilize research information from surveys in some ways without your explicit consent, assuming you answer their surveys, which I do not, they currently don’t share your genetic data unless you opt-in to consent.

I’m not comfortable with not knowing who is using my DNA information and for what research purpose – but your comfort level may vary. 23andMe’s “designer baby” patent in 2013 ended my participation in research.

If you click on “Research,” then “Surveys and Studies,” 23andMe will remind you if you haven’t opted in for research.

You can check your current consent status by scrolling to the bottom of this page after you sign in.

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You will see your current consent status, and you have the ability to update your status with a different choice. Please read every document provided before consenting.

You can also access your Research Consent and other account settings by clicking on the down arrow by your name, at the far right top, and then on “Settings.”

Research Consent is very near the bottom, under Preferences.

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May the Fleas of 1000 Camels Infest Your Armpits

May fleas infest your armpits, 23andMe, for removing the services and features that genealogists purchased and expect to continue to receive. Worse yet, you’ve damaged our collective credibility, because we’ve been recommending 23andMe to our family members and friends for years now, and purchasing kits for them, all in good faith. Now, we get the opportunity to apologize to our family members for your behavior. We trusted you, and we shouldn’t have.

In the past, 23andMe has always updated ethnicity for everyone. New medical and health reports weren’t always added, ostensibly because the necessary genetic locations weren’t on older chips, but genealogy features and updates were never held hostage before – nor was existing functionality removed except for trees.

In retrospect, the removal of trees was probably the first sign that 23andMe was seriously moving away from genealogists and was only paying lip-service in order to obtain our DNA for the very lucrative medical research business.

I haven’t always agreed with the decisions made by 23andMe in the past, but this time, I feel that 23andMe is intentionally acting disingenuously – blatantly arm-twisting their long-time genealogy customers by withholding updates we have every right to expect. Odd way to treat the community that stood by 23andMe and kept buying tests while the FDA had their health and medical reports shut down for two years, from 2013 to 2015 when they finally reached an agreement and began selling their health product again.

As a customer, your only recourse, other than complaining, which I encourage you to do ([email protected]), is to opt-out of research consent. 23andMe may not hear our voices or care about our ethnicity or matches, but I bet they will notice the revocation of consent. Our DNA is a cash-cow for 23andMe as a DNA-broker.

Your other alternative to receive your updated ethnicity results, of course, is to purchase an upgrade and pay to test, again. Just like the only way to get more than 1500 matches is to upgrade plus pay a subscription fee – and then you’re still limited to 5000 matches. Upgrade or not, you won’t receive the other features they’ve removed.

Truthfully, there’s no way in bloody h*ll that a company is going to get me to spend MORE money by abusing my trust and attempting to strong-arm me in this fashion. Nada. That’s simply not going to happen.

I’d wager that treating genealogists in this manner is a very short-sighted strategy. We talk within this community and make recommendations to each other. 23andMe is generating a great deal of bad-will right now.

I left wondering what else existing customers will lose, and when the V5 customers will be arm-twisted to purchase a new test, yet again.



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This entry was posted in 23andMe and tagged General Information by Roberta Estes. Bookmark the permalink. Sours: https://dna-explained.com/2020/10/26/more-losses-at-23andme-including-no-ethnicity-update-for-v2-v3-or-v4-chip-customers/
WHO AM I!?!?! AncestryDNA \u0026 23andMe Results UPDATE! - Ash Serrano - Professional Genealogist Reacts

An update to the 23andMe ancestry algorithm, how populations are constructed

The genomics testing company 23andMe has come out with a new algorithm for ancestry assignment from their SNP panel. They describe the new procedure in a blog post: “The 23andMe Ancestry Algorithm Gets an Upgrade”.

I find that the blog post is a helpful short explanation for how ancestry assignment algorithms work. The authors use the analogy of the genome as a train, and small segments of the genome as “boxcars”. To give the method in brief, the genome is divided up into around 2000 segments, and then a matching algorithm examines whether an individual’s genotypes in each segment match the comparison set of 45 population samples from different parts of the world. The algorithm then does a second pass in which neighboring segments that differ are re-evaluated to see if they may work together to make a stronger fit than they do when considered separately.

This is all straightforward. What struck me upon reading the post is how this procedure boils down to an invention of races.

For instance, when neighboring segments match different comparative samples that are geographically near each other, the algorithm assigns the segments to a higher-level in a population hierarchy: a regional population.

Or, say there’s a stretch of boxcars that don’t match either Ethiopian or Sudanese with high confidence. Here, the smoother can “zoom out” to a broader population called “Northern East African,” at which point it will be highly confident in that assignment.

There’s an irony in being “highly confident” in cases where the data do not match any of the comparative samples well enough to make an assignment. The regional populations actually don’t exist in the comparative sample; they are constructed statistically to account for certain kinds of mismatches in the data.

All of this is true of both the new and old algorithms. The authors describe the difference between new and old algorithms in terms of the training set. Some of the regional population assignments made by the old algorithm came from being trained on a set of test genomes. The idea was that examining identity mismatches between neighboring segments in many real genomes would generate likelihoods of similar kinds of mismatches in a target genome. The new algorithm does away with this training on other people’s genomes and instead considers the pattern of ancestry matches and mismatches within the target genome as a training set for improving assignment of segments. As a result, according to the blog post, the new algorithm will less often assign segments to a regional population and will more often match it to the specific samples in the comparative set.

For my own data, I don’t think there is much difference when looking at the results from the new algorithm. One thing I notice consistently is that the chromosome ideogram display of my ancestry information portrays much greater uniformity across stretches of chromosome than probably exists in my genome. For instance, I’m estimated to be roughly 40% British/Irish and 34% French/German, which is close to what genealogical data would indicate for me. But the ideogram displays a full copy of chromosome 2 as British/Irish, and a full copy as French/German, which is very unlikely from my genealogical data. The boxcars here seem to have been oversimplified.

Some oversimplification is good. Chromosome 2 is around 242 million base pairs long, which makes it around 8 percent of the genome. It should have around 160 of the 2000 “boxcars” of the genome. The noise of genetic variation within any one population is likely to make some of those segments look like better fits to other populations, even if my ancestry was entirely from a single population. But this approach is going to make medium-range genealogy look more homogeneous than it really is, and obscure some of the deeper-range mixture of populations.

Sours: https://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/biotech/testing/23andme-ancestry-algorithm-boxcars-2020.html

Ancestry update 23andme

23andMe Is Updating Ancestry Results Without Telling Users

Rewriting History

If you took a genetic ancestry test through a company like 23andMe, you may want to go back and give your results a second look.

That’s because as the company gathers more data and learns more about genetic trends, it may update the results for your specific DNA and change around where it believes your family came from, according to STAT News. While it makes sense that these companies would eventually hone in on more accurate results, the shifting reports can be a rude shock to people who used the app to figure out their personal identity — only to find, like 23andMe user Leonard Kim, that the results later shift without warning.

“People in general, we have so much of our story that we use to define who we are, and when you have it all come together and then shatter apart, it puts you in this strange place,” Kim told STAT. “It’s like, OK, so what’s my real identity?”

Fine Print

Genetic ancestry companies say their tests can reveal crucial information about users’ histories. That can give off the understandable impression that genetic tests are more conclusive than they really are.

“I think the way the tests are marketed is misleading, because people are led to believe they’ll take a test and find out who they are or where they’re from, and that is not the way to view these results,” genealogist Debbie Kennett told STAT.

23andMe clarifies that test results aren’t the same as personal identity, but that doesn’t stop people from reading into them.

“The bedrock for us has always been the science,” 23andMe ancestry division head Robin Smith told STAT. “We try to fixate on what does the DNA tell us. We’re clear up front that DNA is not identity. DNA is not culture.”

READ MORE:‘What’s my real identity?’: As DNA ancestry sites gather more data, the answer for consumers often changes [STAT News]

More on genetic testing: This DNA Testing Company Gave Its Data to the FBI

Care about supporting clean energy adoption? Find out how much money (and planet!) you could save by switching to solar power at UnderstandSolar.com. By signing up through this link, Futurism.com may receive a small commission.

Sours: https://futurism.com/23andme-updating-ancestry-results
It Changed Again! - 23AndMe Ancestry Update

23andMe is the leading genealogical testing company that also offers DNA health testing.

Genealogical DNA testing can help you learn more about your ancestors and where they came from, let you connect with living relatives, and explore your family’s past more fully.

When combined with health screening for more than 75 traits, conditions, and predispositions, 23andMe’s testing offers a powerful tool that everyone should consider. The following is our 23 and Me review.

What will the test tell me?

There are two main things that you will get from a DNA test kit: an estimate of your ancestry by ethnicity or region, and the chance to connect with living relatives.

23andMe also offers a health test which reports on your genetic health risks, wellness and traits.

Since 23andMe also tests your mtDNA and YDNA, it can also determine your haplogroups.


Variations in autosomal DNA tend to be linked with people living in certain regions.

Because most of the people in a region tend to share DNA with each other, those variations can narrow down where your ancestors lived.

23andMe breaks the world down into 2,000+ regions.

Your ancestry reports will show how much of your DNA comes from each region, down to the nearest 0.1% – your ancestry composition. 

A typical report might show that someone is 48.3% Western European, 27.2% Eastern European, 11.6% Asian, 9.2% Native American, and 3.7% Middle Eastern.

By knowing where your ancestors likely came from, you have important clues on where to focus your research.

See our guide to DNA testing for ethnicity.

Living relatives

Like most DNA testing companies, 23andMe lets you connect with genetic matches in their database.

Currently, 23andMe has tested over 10 million people, so there’s a mighty good chance you’ll find some matches.

However, there are two caveats.

First, sharing your results with others is optional, so you will only see matches from folks who have agreed to share their results.

Second, in some cases it might be hard at first to figure out just how someone is related to you. They might be third or fourth cousins.

However, once you contact them and start working together, you can share your family tree research, which can save you countless hours of building your family tree on your own.

Being able to link to relatives is especially helpful if you are adopted and want to learn more about your birth family.

Health testing

23andMe is the only company that offers a genetic health conditions test in addition to the autosomal DNA test.

There is an extra fee for the health screening, but it may well be worth every penny.

The 23andMe health test checks for dozens of genetic conditions and predispositions.

A condition means you have it, or may pass it along to your children.

A predisposition means you are more likely to develop it than most people, but it’s still only a chance.

The test includes four sets of reports: genetic health risk reports, wellness reports, trait reports, and carrier status reports.

It’s very important to remember that the health testing is only the first step in identifying a health issue.

You should never rely on these reports to provide medical advice, but you can use them to start a conversation with your doctor or a genetic counselor.

Genetic health risk reports

These genetic testing reports will tell you if you are at increased risk for certain hereditary conditions.

Since early detection is a major component in treating these conditions, knowing you are at increased risk can help you set up a plan with your doctor for regular testing.

Genetic health risks include such things as a predisposition for age-related macular degeneration (leading to very poor eyesight as you get older), Parkinson’s disease, or late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Again, early detection is critical in effective treatment, so knowing you are at risk can make a huge difference.

Wellness reports

These reports can give you some clue as to how you compare to the “average” person, but don’t read too much into them.

Many lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, and stress levels, can have a much bigger impact than your genetics.

Wellness reports will tell you about such things as how deeply you are likely to sleep, how much you move around while sleeping, whether you are likely to be lighter or heavier on average, your caffeine consumption, and whether you are likely to be lactose intolerant.

The contribution of your genes to your wellness is only one factor, but it can be a good starting place for a conversation with your doctor.

Traits reports

We all have dozens of genetic traits that affect our appearance rather than our health.

As an adult, you probably know what your traits are, but these reports could tell you about how your children (or potential children) may turn out.

Traits include such things as eye color, hair curliness, cheek dimples, male pattern baldness, freckles, the length of our fingers and toes, and sensitivity to certain tastes.

These are all passed on genetically.

These reports might tell you why your child has green eyes or red hair when you and your spouse don’t (maybe you both have a recessive gene for it), or just how bald you can expect to get.

Carrier status reports

We all carry dominant genes and recessive genes.

The dominant ones are the ones that usually determine our health and appearance.

But recessive genes can be important, because if you and your spouse both have the same recessive gene, it can become dominant in your children.

That means that even if you don’t have a certain hereditary disease, your children still could.

Knowing this early can help you detect certain conditions before they become health problems.

23andMe’s health testing checks for more than 40 genetic conditions, including blood diseases, kidney disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Sickle Cell Anemia, Tay-Sachs Disease, and many others.


Unlike most testing companies, 23andMe does perform mtDNA tests (for everyone) and Y-DNA tests (for men only) as part of its standard test, which will tell you your haplogroups.

A haplogroup is a basically a set of genetic markers that are common to a population of a certain area at some point in history.

For example, if your mtDNA haplogroup is H3, that means your maternal line very likely lived in western Spain.

People who lived in eastern Spain, or other areas of the world, belong to different haplogroups.

However, haplogroups go back very far – at least 10,000 years, and as much as 75,000 years.

Since migration patterns through much of human history were slow, it’s a good indicator that your ancestors lived there fairly recently.

But recent could mean two or three generations ago, or it could mean ten or more generations ago.

Also, keep in mind that your haplogroups only tell you about your direct maternal line and, for men, your direct paternal line.

They can’t tell you anything about all the rest of your ancestors.

So they are interesting, but not always helpful when researching your family tree.

How does 23andMe compare to other companies?

When it comes to having genealogical testing done, there are a number of options.

So why would you want to pick 23andMe?

The main advantage 23andMe has over every other company is that they are the only ones who offer a genetic health reports.

If you want to know about how your DNA is likely to impact your health and wellness, 23andMe is your only choice.

23andMe vs AncestryDNA

Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing, so 23andMe’s bundled test is going to give you more information based on your mtDNA and YDNA for close to the same price.

But once again, Ancestry has a huge genealogical community and tons of online records that 23andMe doesn’t.

The big drawback there is you need to maintain a paid subscription to Ancestry to take advantage of those added features.

See our complete comparison of 23andMe and AncestryDNA and our review of AncestryDNA.

23andMe vs FamilyTreeDNA

23andMe’s test bundles all three types of DNA tests.

FamilyTreeDNA offers all three tests, but lets you pick and choose which ones you want to have done.

If you want all three tests, 23andMe is going to be a lot less expensive.

However, FamilyTreeDNA is going to provide much more detailed and accurate results for mtDNA and YDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA also has a very large genealogical community and tons of online records, while 23andMe has neither.

23andMe vs MyHeritage DNA

MyHeritage only offers autosomal DNA testing, so 23andMe’s bundle of all three tests is going to have more overall information for about the same price.

But like FamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry, MyHeritage includes plenty of online genealogical records and a large community.

Be sure to check out our complete review of MyHeritage.

What do DNA tests actually test?

There are three types of DNA tests used in genealogy today:

  • Autosomal DNA – passed on from all of your ancestors on both sides of your family
  • YDNA – passed on directly through your paternal line (from father to son) and only found in males
  • mtDNA – passed on directly through your maternal line (from a mother to all of her children, both male and female). More on mtDNA testing.

Most companies only offer autosomal DNA testing. A couple offer all three tests individually.

23andMe actually performs all three tests for a single low price.

However, most of the results you get will be based on your autosomal DNA.

If you want accurate, useful results from YDNA or mtDNA, you will need to go with a different company (see our recommendations here).

Autosomal DNA is passed on from both of your parents, half from each.

Each of them got half of their autosomal DNA from their parents, and so on.

Because autosomal DNA gets mixed with each generation, it can only take you so far back – at least five or six generations, occasionally up to ten generations.

Autosomal DNA is most useful for telling what regions your ancestors came from, and for locating living DNA relatives out to about third or fourth cousins, sometimes a little further.

Getting your results

Once you mail back the kit, it usually takes 6-8 weeks for your results to be ready. You will receive an email as soon as they are.

Once your results are ready, you will need to log in to the 23andMe.com website to view them. Creating a 23andMe account is free.

In order to use 23andMe, or any other DNA testing, you need to have an email address and access to a computer to get the results.

How accurate are the results?

Even though genealogical DNA testing is still fairly young, it has come a very long way.

Every day, more and more results pile up and get compared to traditional family trees, and every day the results get more accurate.

At this point they are accurate enough that 23andMe breaks your ethnicity down to 0.1% intervals – at least as good as any other company out there.

But personal genetic tests can’t tell you everything.

Even if your ancestors were Eastern European, that doesn’t mean they didn’t spend a generation or two in England or France before coming to the United States.

So your results are clues on how to expand your research. They won’t do the work for you.

Will it tell me if I’m Native American?

Your results will indicate if you have Native American ancestors, and will give them a percentage result just like all of your other ancestors.

It may even narrow down the general region of North or South America.

However, it is impossible for the test to determine what tribe your ancestors may have come from, and it cannot be used as proof of ancestry when it comes to getting added to a tribal roll.

See our guide to Native American ancestry here.

Am I a neanderthal?

Obviously not, but you might have neanderthal ancestry!

There is genetic evidence that humans and Neanderthals crossbred before the Neanderthals all died out.

That means that many people, if not everyone, has a little bit of Neanderthal ancestry in them.

Your 23andMe results will tell you just how Neanderthal you are, how that compares to other people, and what traits you might have inherited from Neanderthals.

Using your family to expand your search

Even though you have the same parents as your brothers and sisters, unless you are identical twins, you don’t share the exact same DNA.

And because your DNA is different, that means that you might get different results when it comes to locating living relatives.

In order to match you as a relative, you need to share about 3% or so of your DNA with a cousin.

If you share a little less, the search won’t find a match.

But your brother or sister might share just a little bit more DNA with that particular cousin, so they would show up as a match.

That means that getting the rest of your family tested can help expand your results and your search.

You can test your children, too.

There is no minimum or maximum age to get a DNA test done.

The only problem might be getting a very young child to spit into the collection tube enough to fill it for the test.

But what about privacy?

Your privacy is carefully protected by 23andMe.

They never share your personal information with any other company unless required by law.

When you get tested, the testing lab only has the barcode number from your kit. It never knows anything about you, not even your name.

Federal laws prevent employers or insurance companies from discriminating against you based on your genetics, too, regardless of what your health reports may turn up.

When it comes to connecting with potential family members, you have to opt in before anyone else can see your information, and can opt out again at any time.

So don’t worry, your privacy is secure with 23andMe.

Can I use my results on other sites?

23andMe lets you download your results in raw format.

That’s basically just a really big spreadsheet that shows what each marker was at the 700,000 spots they tested.

Once you have your raw results, some companies will let you upload them for free.

That means you can take advantage of the genealogical resources on those other sites while still getting the benefit of DNA health testing from 23andMe.

What does 23andMe cost?

If you choose just the ancestry service, the cost is $99.

If you want both the ancestry test and health screening, it will cost you $199.

If you just get the ancestry test to start with, you can also order the health screening later for $125 (so you end up paying a total of $224).

You can get the added results without needing to be retested.

Either way, the cost includes both the kit and the lab work to process it.

In addition to that, there is a $9.95 shipping fee for standard mail.

That includes postage both ways, to you and to the lab.

If you’re in a huge hurry, you can get express shipping for $36.95, but you’ll still have to wait 6-8 weeks for results, so it probably isn’t worth it.

Once your test is finished, there are never any additional fees. You can use your results as long as you want without any subscriptions or other costs.

Gifts and discounts

Want to increase your chances of finding distant relatives?

You should get the rest of your family tested, too.

You can buy kits for your brothers and sisters, parents, children, or whoever.

Just be sure they are willing to have the test done before you spend the money.

There’s no expiration dates on the kits, so feel free to buy them in advance and give them out later as birthday or Christmas presents (NOTE: the return shipping on the kit might expire eventually, but is certainly good for a few months).

You can often find discounts on 23andMe tests, too, so be sure to check their website for the latest pricing.

Final thoughts

You can certainly dig into your family roots without getting DNA tested.

However, it is a powerful tool that can provide you with a lot of information and connections to other researchers.

Considering the low cost, having a DNA test is almost essential in genealogical research today.

And if you’re going to get the ancestry test through 23andMe, there’s no doubt that getting the health test done at the same time is a great idea.

It can give you essential information on your genetic health and identify potential issues before they ever start to appear.

That can save you many thousands of dollars in the long run.

For more information or to buy the 23andMe test, click here.

Questions? Ask away in the comments below.

About the Author

Sours: https://www.smarterhobby.com/genealogy/23andme-dna-test-review/

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