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Online Ancestry Testing: Accuracy And Benefits

Genetic genealogy is a popular topic at the moment – it seems everyone wants to learn more about their ancestors, their lives, their status, and the causes of their deaths. The internet is rife with companies – some reputable, some not – that provide you with your genetic history through a DNA analysis. The problem lies with determining which companies are reputable and which aren't, so be sure to research the company if you opt for genetic genealogy testing. Your DNA doesn't change as you age, so there's generally no benefit to annual updates except as technology advances to reveal more in-depth test results.

What Is DNA?

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, and it's the genetic code for each living being. Your DNA contains about 3 billion code options that will determine whether you're tall, short, lean, curvy, brunette, blond, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, and so forth. In short, whatever physical characteristics exist in your body are determined by your genetic makeup, or your DNA. Women will have two X chromosomes in their genetics, whereas men will have one X and one Y chromosome.

The number of available code combinations in a strand of DNA means that there's an almost limitless number of physical combinations, so that no two people are exactly alike, not even identical twins. Copy number variants and similar conditions can be found in the substructure of DNA and prove that even apparently identical twins have differences at the molecular level.

Sometimes the genetic codes can mutate, and the effects can be harmful, neutral, or beneficial. The results of genetic mutations often include harmful diseases such as muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis, as well as any beneficial mutations such as the propensity for longevity or lower cholesterol levels. Knowing your genetic genealogy can alert you to the possibility of some of these diseases so that you can take precautions against them.

However, the presence of a genetic mutation doesn't indicate that you'll have a disease, nor does the lack of it indicate that you won't. If you find a genetic mutation in your DNA results, then talk to your doctor about it.

Your DNA can be found throughout your body in your hair follicles, your skin, your blood, your bones, your saliva, and almost all other components of your body. Usually, either blood or saliva is used by reputable DNA testing companies. A saliva sample is obtained by using a special swab and returning it to the company. A blood sample is usually obtained by a finger prick using a small lancet similar to those used by diabetics.

Human DNA occurs as long stretches of chromosomes, and there are 23 pairs of chromosomes in each human, which totals 46 chromosomes. The majority of your DNA is stored in the center of each cell, which is called the nucleus. Trace amounts of genetic material are stored in the mitochondria, which is the power generator of the cells. The complete set of genetic instructions found in a cell is called a genome.

What Types Of DNA Testing Are Available?

The most common types of DNA tests are:

  • Y-DNA: Available only to those who are biologically male and have a Y-chromosome, Y-DNA is usually done to determine if individuals are related.
  • Autosomal DNA: This type of DNA testing provides more information about relatives and ethnicity than other types of testing. It's the type that's most commonly used for genetic genealogy testing and can help locate distant relatives and ancestors, even those from other areas of the world.
  • Mitochondrial DNA: Also called mtDNA testing, mitochondrial DNA testing reveals genetic information about the females in the lineage. It's particularly important for the preservation of the female lineage because of the societal mandates that women change their surname to that of their current husband.

How Accurate Is Modern Testing?

Several types of DNA testing are available, and their accuracy will primarily depend on the reliability of the company that conducts the test. Other factors that will influence the outcome are the type of test taken, the size of the database used, the integrity of the sample submitted, and the variant of the genome that's analyzed.

Genomes

There can be multiple genomes for one specific trait, so the presence or absence of it in one test that's apparently contradicted by the presence or absence of it in another test doesn't necessarily mean that one or the other of the tests is faulty. It could simply be a difference in the scope and type of databases used and their interpretation of the results.

Databases

Another factor that can influence the outcome of a genetic genealogy test is the database used. Companies use various databases for their tests, and each database may interpret their genome data differently. Therefore, their results may differ widely, but both may still be accurate. The human genome is immeasurably more complex than can be specifically interpreted by random samples. Therefore, while genetic genealogy may lead an individual in the right direction of their ancestry, it's not an absolute science that's without a margin of error.

Interpretation

The online DNA tests results are mostly determined by information from GWAS, or Genome Wide Association Studies, which may be limited in scope depending on the size of the population represented for a specific trait. Therefore, the indication or lack thereof of a specific trait doesn't guarantee that it will or will not be present in an individual. This can account for the disparities in some families where none of them appear to be related but are. Some traits will present as dominant traits in some individuals, whereas another individual in the same family will have a completely different set of dominant traits.

Which DNA Test Companies Are The Best?

The best online DNA test company is a purely subjective conclusion, but some are admittedly better than others. Online DNA testing is relatively new, and most of them have about a 90 percent accuracy rate. However, the presence or absence of a specific trait that's indicated in the results of your DNA test doesn't guarantee that it is or isn't in your genetic makeup. Although online genetic testing has a low margin of error, there can be errors. Identical twins can receive different results, or a test can indicate that you have an ethnicity of which you're unaware.

For some areas, such as the UK, an indication of English ancestry could also include Irish or Scottish genetics since the areas are so close geographically. It's also possible that some individuals won't get DNA from some of their ancestors because it's biologically impossible for the DNA of every person's ancestors to be evident in every one of their descendants.

What's The Benefit Of Online DNA Testing?

Although online genetic testing started out as a lark or a hobby for many people, it has blossomed into a massive compilation of data that has helped individuals locate lost parents, siblings, and other relatives, and it has helped some become aware of certain medical conditions and other issues. It's become an accepted part of everyday life, and it enables individuals to become actively involved in their healthcare without the need for a prescription or a visit to their medical professional.

The COVID-19 outbreak has proliferated interest in genetic genealogy because people are confined to their homes, and they're bored. Researching their familial history can provide entertainment as well as knowledge. People are confirming information about ancestors they knew of only anecdotally and are learning more about their family health history.With the rise of the COVID-19 outbreak there has also been an increase in telehealth, so you can obtain your DNA results and discuss them with your medical provider without leaving home.

How Do I Determine If A Genetic Genealogy Company Is Reputable?

Although it's difficult to determine which online DNA testing companies are reliable, there are ways to eliminate some of them. Every laboratory that performs health-related testing is subject to federal regulatory standards. These standards are governed by the CLIA, or the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments. This group of regulations governs the methods used for testing, the qualifications of the testing personnel, and the procedures used to determine the results of the tests. Anyone who is contemplating ordering genetic genealogy testing should look at the certifications provided by the testing site and then discuss their options with their healthcare provider.

Which Genetic Genealogy Test Sites Are The Best?

There are a plethora of genetic genealogy testing companies, so it's difficult to know which provides the most reliable data. The following may help you determine which test sites are best for you:

  • Don't select a site due to its popularity.
  • Select according to the experts in the company.
  • Select according to the detail provided by the test.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Genetic Genealogy Testing?

Although the physical risks are minimal because of the way the genetic testing is done – usually with a small blood sample or a cheek swab – there are other risks involved, such as familial disharmony, anger, guilt, or financial consequences. Some family members may strenuously object to the testing and its results. Although genetic genealogy testing can provide information on some types of inherited disorders or diseases, it can't prove whether the person has a specific disease or not.

How Do I Submit My DNA And What Happens To It?

Most companies will send you a kit that contains a special swab. Use the swab on the inside of your cheek, and then enclose it in the special container that's provided. Although a prepaid envelope is usually provided, you might want to ensure that your package has a tracking number so that it doesn't get lost. It's important that your package isn't lost because it contains the most important information about you – your genetic identity. Usually, the results will be available online within four to eight weeks.

However, your DNA may be made available to various outside companies and agencies such as law enforcement and other types of third-party groups. Since many types of companies and agencies have access to various DNA databases, your DNA can affect your insurance rates, your ability to get insurance, or your ability to serve in the military. Unfortunately, genetic testing performed by commercial genetic genealogy companies isn't afforded the same legal protection as that performed by a healthcare provider.

How Much Does Genetic Genealogy Testing Cost And How Long Does It Take?

The type and complexity of the test will determine how much it costs, but when genetic testing is for genealogical purposes, it's usually less than $100. It also usually takes less than two months to obtain the results. So if you are interested in finding out more about your family history and understanding yourself like you never have before, consider sending in your DNA and discovering more about your world.

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