Wednesday, September 23, 2009

23andMe Testing - Another View

Roberta Estes [Bio] has been a professional scientist and business owner in the information technology arena for 25+ years, as well as an obsessed genealogist since 1978.    She is Project Administrator for the Lost Colony DNA Project and has recently published a summary of the 23andMe offer 'possibilities' to that list.    She has kindly given me permission to copy that summary here and it follows, verbatim:

New 23andMe Autosomal Test Opportunity - Very Limited Time

Recently I have been invited to gather a group to participate in a very special beta group at 23andMe.

I want to state very clearly this offer is for a very limited time. If you wish to participate, KITS MUST BE ORDERED BY SEPTEMBER 30TH (2009) AND RETURNED TO THE LAB NO LATER THAN OCTOBER 30TH.

Secondly, I had to agree to not post the price online nor the special discount code for our group online, but let's just say that the price is in the ballpark of the DNA tests we are used to from the major DNA testing companies.    If you want to know more, e-mail me privately and I'll send you both the price and the discount code to order, but I must ask you to not post the price info nor the code online anyplace.    You can distribute this to family and friends under the same conditions.

When I took this test, it cost $995.    The current public price is $399 for the full service test and this special beta price is dramatically less, in fact, it's only slightly more than their Research Edition test listed here, but because of the special nature of this project, you get the full test for the discounted price which is slightly more than the Research Edition.

For this special price, you receive all of their Ancestry results which you can see here and their 116 genetic traits which you can see here.    As new tests come online, your results are provided for those tests for free, or at least this has been the policy to date.    I've been quite pleased as new information has been added to my personal account.

For those who don't know, 23andMe is a DNA testing company that provides some information to genealogists regarding haplogroup information and percentages of ethnicity, but has traditionally focused more on genetic health traits.    23andme

New Autosomal Focus and Product - Relative Finder

In the past few months, their focus has changed somewhat.

First, they are now only one of two companies who provide a percentage of ethnicity and it's included in their one-price test.    This percentage includes European, African and Asian, and for the purposes of the people in the US looking for Native American ancestry, the Asian percentage is proxy for the Native American.    It's not perfect, but it's the best there is today.

Second, they have been working very hard on autosomal testing, which is indeed the focus of these beta groups of 50 individuals.    A new product called "Relative Finder" will compare your DNA to that of other individuals to see who you match and who you don't and will hopefully help you to discover people to whom you are related.    The demonstration for this new feature is not yet available, but will be soon.    It may not be available before the end of the discount period, so if you are interested in participating, do NOT wait on this demo to be available or you may miss the window of opportunity (Sept. 30th).

Many of us have taken the Codis, autosomal or DNAPrint tests with the hopes of determining what ethnic group we match or if we are a match with a particular individual.    These tests use between 15 and 21 markers, typically the same markers used for forensics.    This new test uses over half a million markers for each person.

Rather than try to describe this to you, I'm going to quote Ann Turner (MD) who was one of two authors who wrote the book, Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree, which is still the best basics book on genetic genealogy available.

Dr. Turner says, "The current discount is for the full product, and it only applies during a beta test period for a new feature at 23andMe.    The type of test offered by 23andMe doesn't replace Y-STR and mtDNA HVR (or FGS), although "deep ancestry" results can help sort out some coincidental matches.

The potential breakthrough for genetic genealogy is the vast amount of autosomal data:    550,000 SNPs, vs the couple of handfuls of CODIS-style STRs you probably ordered elsewhere.    If this pans out, it means that projects (surname/geographical/ethnic) don't need to confine themselves to the straight paternal or maternal lines, but they can include people whose ancestry zigzags back and forth between males and females.

Genetic genealogists just aren't dialed in to thinking about all the "other" ancestral lines.    In order to introduce and (hopefully!) demonstrate the utility of autosomal testing for finding connections between people, discounts were offered to a few project administrators.

For instance, one way to use autosomal testing in a surname project would be to calibrate whether a Y-STR match represents recent ancestry (say 4th cousins or so) or is likely to be more distant.    Also, women who don't have a
straight paternal line could participate in a surname-oriented project if they think they might share a recent ancestor with a male in the project.

Projects limited to a well-defined geographic area or ethnicity may be able to identify multiple connections between people and assemble an autosomal picture of the founders.    Again, this would open up projects to people who lack a straight maternal or paternal line.

Nothing like this has ever been attempted before, so we are just beginning to explore the potential.    It will also be important to understand the limitations.

One way to use this type of testing would be to narrow down the inheritance of medical conditions.    Some of you may be investigating a medical condition that is found in your extended family, like I've been doing for an autosomal dominant hereditary hearing impairment where the gene is unknown.    By testing 6 cousins, some with and some without the condition, I've been able to narrow down the possibilities to one region on chromosome 15.    Some of you may even know the name of the gene but wonder if you've inherited the same stretch of DNA as a cousin with the condition.

Some of you may have found some clues about an adopted great-grandfather and wondered if you've really located a living cousin.    The Family Inheritance diagram at 23andMe would highlight an area of DNA that you share.    (Anyone can create a demo account and view various diagrams and reports for a real family, the "Mendels".)"

A third way would be to test multiple people from a family, ethnic group such as the Amish or a particular geography (such as the Cumberland Gap) who are or might be related in some manner and to see which chromosomes they share.

Basicly "relatedness" testing can also be achieved in this manner for people who think they may be related and for whom the siblingship or extended family testing has proven inconclusive.

Well, you get the picture. There are many other hypotheses that could be investigated with autosomal DNA once you begin to think about it.

Here, Blaine Bettinger discusses his experiences with the 23andMe test.

Here he discusses the ancestry portion of his testing and the Ethnic percentages.

A related article can be found here.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this.    I can't tell you what you'll get out of this endeavor except for their normal products, which alone is an incredible value for the price you will pay.    You will be participating in a new research endeavor and you may indeed be part of finding that "Holy Grail" for genealogists, discovering how to effectively use autosomal DNA to determine not only race and ethnicity, but degrees of relatedness to other individuals.    One thing is for sure, if you don't participate, you'll never know.    I'll be there.    Hope to see you there too.


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