Tag Archives: dna testing

Are Americans fed up with DNA testing?

DNA testing took the US by storm, but the novelty seems to be wearing off.

A home DNA testing kit, with a saliva (spit or cheek swab) tube collector and return shipping box. This specific model is for Embark, a dog DNA testing company. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Increasingly affordable genetic sequencing technology and the appealing idea of unraveling one’s heritage has drawn millions of Americans to purchase home DNA kits. This has meant very good business for companies like Ancestry or 23andMe.

However, there are signs that the market has become saturated and that the best days of DNA testing are long behind it.

DNA testing looks out of fashion

Last month, Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis wrote a blog post citing “a slowdown in consumer demand across the entire DNA category” and announcing that 6% of its workforce was being laid off.

This isn’t a problem just for Ancestry — the entire market is being affected by shifts in consumer behavior. For instance, 23andMe slashed about 100 positions, or 14%, of its workforce. 

More than 30 million people around the world have taken a DNA test, more than half of which have been sold by Ancestry. About 10 million DNA kits were sold by 23andMe, most of which were in the United States.

If 2018 was a fantastic year for DNA testing, the same can’t be said about 2019. According to Second Measure, a company that infers market trends from consumer credit and debit card data, Ancestry’s sales were down 38% in November — what’s typically an excellent month for sales in anticipation of the holidays — compared to the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, 23andMe’s sales were down 54% compared to a year earlier. December, the best month of the year, saw a 15% decline for Ancestry and 48% for 23andMe.

So, what might be causing this sharp decline?

One obvious explanation is that DNA testing is marketed to a niche audience that is interested in learning more about their heritage and have enough disposable income to afford to pay at least $100 for this kind of service.

After 30 million people bought DNA kits, most of the market seems to have saturated. It’s also worth noting that the ancestry results are a lot like newspapers — they’re read by all the members of the family. Why would siblings or close relatives take a heritage test when they could just read yours?

“The DNA market is at an inflection point now that most early adopters have entered the category,” Georgiadis said.

Another major blow to the DNA testing market is privacy concerns. One particularly high-profile case, involving the Golden State Killer, helped highlight how this can be a huge problem for consumer’s most precious data — their genes. To track down the criminal, police used DNA from the killer’s third and fourth cousins who had bought DNA kits and had their information uploaded to a third-party site.

While the case can be seen as a success story in which DNA ancestry technology and law enforcement came together to solve an important case, the reality is that it exposed just how loosely genetic data is being traded and sold among third parties. This includes Silicon Valley startups and pharmaceutical juggernauts. Suddenly, DNA testing wasn’t just entertainment in people’s minds — consumers quickly realized that their genetic information is precious and shouldn’t be shared lightly with anyone.

Privacy concerns have been so vocal among some groups that the Pentagon issued a statement in December 2019, recommending armed forces members not to take DNA tests as they might risk “exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties.”

Both Ancestry and 23andMe have stepped up their game since these stories have gone public. Their privacy guidelines and terms now require “express consent” from consumers before sharing their data with third parties.

And although not that many consumers are aware of this, DNA ancestry tests can be rather flawed and inaccurate. However, with a review such as this one, it does not mean that various types of DNA ancestry testing aren’t based on legitimate science. Hopefully, as sequencing tech improves, so will the error correction.

Looking to the future, it’s anyone’s guess if the DNA testing market will recover. It now seems unlikely that the industry will see the same tremendous growth it experienced in 2017 and 2018. However, don’t count DNA testing as dead yet. There are still billions of people around the world who haven’t tried the technology — and with a bit of convincing, they might want to buy.

Credit: Public Domain.

Hair claimed to belong to Leonardo da Vinci to undergo DNA testing

Credit: Public Domain.

Credit: Public Domain.

A pair of art historians claim that they now possess a lock of hair which belonged to Leonardo da Vinci. They plan on conducting DNA testing in order to confirm the identity of the hair’s owner — an announcement which coincides with the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death. Critics, however, claim that it will be impossible to confirm whether the hair came from the famous Renaissance inventor and artist since Leonardo’s original tomb was destroyed and there are no reliable living descendants to compare their DNA to that from the hair.

The Renaissance of Leonardo’s DNA

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in a farmhouse outside the village of Anchiano, in present-day Italy. Historians believe he was born out of wedlock to respected Florentine notary Ser Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci and a young peasant woman named Caterina. At the age of five, he moved to his father’s family estate in nearby Vinci, the Tuscan town from which his surname derives. Leonardo da Vinci died of a probable stroke on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67, in the French town of Amboise.

Both Italian and French towns celebrated the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death with special events and exhibitions. As part of the celebration, Alessandro Vessozi, the director of the “Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci,” and Agnese Sabato, the president of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation, announced that they have come under the possession of a lock of hair belonging to Leonardo da Vinci. According to Vessozi, the hair had remained hidden in a private American collection.

“We found, across the Atlantic, a lock of hair historically tagged ‘Les Cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci’”—French for “Leonardo da Vinci’s hair,” Sabato said in a statement.

Vezzosi adds, “This historical relic … has long remained hidden in an American collection. It will now be exposed for the first time, along with documents attesting [to] its ancient French provenance.”

The artist is believed to have been buried in the Chapel of Saint-Florentin, which was destroyed during the French revolution. In the late 19th century, French poet Arsène Houssaye discovered what he believed to be Leonardo’s bones while excavating the ruins of the chapel. The bones were placed at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, also located at Château d’Amboise.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”The Vitruvian Man” footer=””]Leonardo da Vinci is known for important artworks such as “The Last Supper” and “Vitruvian Man”, as well as his codex, notebooks, and many sketches which have fascinated millions for centuries. A real Renaissance man, da Vinci’s interests spanned art, architecture, music, mathematics, and science. For instance, he first dreamed of the designs for the parachute, bicycle, and helicopter. [/panel]

On May 2, da Vinci’s Sabato and Vessozi said in a statement that they want to perform DNA analysis on the hair and compare it to the presumed remains at the Amboise tomb. However, the seriousness of such an undertaking has been put into question by experts.

Firstly, there is no reliable way to link Leonardo’s hair to the bones at the Amboise tomb, which could belong to anyone given the original ransacking. Then there’s the question of extracting DNA from the hair itself, a process which isn’t as straightforward as it might sound — the original genetic material may be degraded or contaminated.

The historians have also proposed comparing genetic material from the lock of hair to that belonging to da Vinci’s living descendants. In 2016, Vezzosi and Sabata claimed to have identified 35 living relatives of Leonardo using historical documents. These individuals were linked to Leonardo’s father via the artist’s brother. Leonardo didn’t marry or have children.

However, there are only two types of DNA can be traced reliably over the centuries. One is mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother’s side and is solely passed on only through an unbroken female line. Similarly, Y-chromosome DNA comes from the father and is passed on to the next generation only through an unbroken male line. The relatives identified by Vezzosi and Sabata don’t represent unbroken male or female lines, and as such cannot be used to reliably confirm whether the hair did, in fact, belong to Leonardo.

Elsewhere, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute are testing paintings, notebooks, and drawings which belonged to da Vinci looking for traces of his DNA such as fingerprints, skin flakes, and strands of hair. If it can ever be obtained, this DNA can then be compared to the newly announced lock of hair or any other similar remains.

Credit: Pixabay.

Many people ‘cherry-pick’ their genetic ancestry data tests

Nowadays, it’s become fairly easy and cheap to order a DNA testing kit that can determine your ancestral ethnicity and genealogical relationships. Some people, however, tend to ignore some parts of their ancestry and embrace others –whichever fits their perceived identity — a new study concluded.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Genetic ancestry testing is supposed to be a way for people curious about their family history to go beyond what they can learn from relatives or from historical documentation. This kind of DNA-based tests works by looking at specific locations of a person’s genome in order to spot patterns of genetic variation. These patterns are often shared among people of particular backgrounds, and the more closely related two individuals, families, or populations are, the more patterns of variation they typically share.

Taking such a test might, for instance, tell you that your ancestry is approximately 50 percent African, 25 percent European, 20 percent Asian, and 5 percent unknown.

But not everyone is prepared to accept the ancestry test’s results. Wendy Roth, associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of British Columbia, Canada, along with colleagues, recruited 100 individuals who had to take a genetic ancestry test. Before taking the test, the American participants identified as either white, black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or Native American.

The researchers used a series of questionnaires and interviews to establish each participant’s ethnic and racial identities. The participants were then interviewed a second time, 18 months after taking the genetic testing, in order to see how each person interpreted the results. Remarkably, “consumers’ prior racialization also influences their identity aspirations; white respondents aspired to new identities more readily and in substantively different ways,” the authors wrote American Journal of Sociology

“People often buy these genetic ancestry tests because they’re looking for a sense of belonging or to confirm a story that’s been passed down in their family,” said Roth in a statement. “But if the test results don’t support what they want to believe, we found that people will often ignore the results or criticize them. We tend to cherry-pick the parts of our family story that we like most and want to emphasize.”

One participant, named “Eduardo,” self-identified as a white Mexican American before taking the test. However, his genetic ancestry test results reported Native American, Celtic, and Jewish ancestries. Eduardo embraced his Jewish identity but disregarded his Celtic ancestry. “I always looked up to the Jewish people… I thought of them as higher than me,” he told the researchers. “Shannon” was adopted and always thought she had Native American roots, which the test revealed she did not. Despite the results, Shannon chose to disregard them, citing that the test is wrong and continuing to identify as Native American.

The researchers theorized that how a person chose to interpret such genetic ancestry results is influenced by their identity aspirations and social appraisals. Now, it seems that prior racialization also plays an important part.

In particular, white people were more likely to embrace new racial identities, but only as long as they felt others would still accept them.

“White identity is something that lots of people around them have, so it doesn’t feel special,” said Roth. “Part of it may be guilt about being white and feeling somewhat privileged. They want something that makes them feel unique, whereas for many people of color, they’ve known all along that they have some racial mixture in their ancestry, and it’s not as surprising.”

There are more than 74 companies in the United States offering genetic ancestry tests. Roth cautions, however, that people ought to be careful how they interpret these results.

“There are many ways in which genetic tests that tell you the percentages of your ancestry are misleading and they’re often misunderstood,” said Roth. “Some tests can be useful for helping people track down long-lost relatives who are genetic matches, if they’re lucky. But people who use these tests to determine their race or inform their sense of identity should be aware that this isn’t the right way to think about it.”

How to perform your own DNA test

Image via Dina Knight

Image via Dina Knight

Getting a paternity test may seem like an overwhelming and complicated task to anyone who has never gone through the process before. Even for those who know a little about DNA and the measures it takes to obtain a DNA sample, the process of getting a paternity test may seem unclear. If you don’t know how to get a paternity test but would like to find answers to questions regarding your family origin, a paternity test is much easier obtained than you may think. The following 6 steps to obtaining a paternity test can help you find the assurance and closure you need regarding family relations, as well as give you legal evidence in court cases involving legal and family ties.  A paternity test kit can provide putative families with the peace of mind necessary and help support the involved party’s claim if they need legally binding.

1. Find a Credible DNA Testing Lab

Because DNA testing requires very specific equipment, you may not find a DNA testing lab in your local community. Many people turn to companies with online websites to obtain the testing kits and find paternity results. While there are completely valid and credible websites online through which to obtain DNA testing results, you may also need to be careful to avoid un-credible or inaccurate testing facilities. A true DNA testing laboratory will have proof of affiliation and accreditation available on their website in an easily viewable location. Once you have determined that a testing lab is legitimate, you can begin the process of obtaining results.

[ALSO READ] Science ABC: Mitochondrial DNA

2. Select Your Tests based on the need for a Legally Binding Result

Many individuals seek paternity tests for personal and family uses. These kinds of tests can be done simply and quickly without a lot of paperwork involved. When a paternity test is needed to prove legal matters and legally-bind individuals together by DNA type, you may need to take a few additional steps in the obtainment of test results. Before you begin obtaining DNA samples, first determine if legally-binding accuracy is crucial to your intended uses of the final test results.

3. Determine Which Individuals You would like Included in the Test

While a basic paternity test will include an obtainment of DNA from the father in question and the child, additional family members can usually be added to these test results. Anyone from the mother to additional children can usually have their results added to a test for an additional charge. In legal cases, it is important to determine which individuals you need included on the paternity test in order to fulfill court requirements or obtain adequate evidence. When all individuals have been determined, the next step will be to obtain the DNA samples from each person.

4. Order a DNA Obtainment Kit

  • Easy to Obtain
  • Non-Intrusive
  • Hard to Mess-Up

A home paternity test kit is actually fairly easy to obtain, and the procedures are very non-intrusive. While some might worry that they will mess-up a home DNA kit, it really is quite simple. DNA can be obtained with a simple swab of the check with a cotton ball, or with a prick of blood. Instructions for use will be included with your home kit, and will guide you through the process of obtaining and sealing your sample in an easy-to-understand way.

For those pursuing legally-binding paternity test results, you will likely need a professional DNA obtainment service to come to your home to obtain DNA samples. While the procedures are still as non-invasive as possible, a professional team helps to ensure accurate results as well as avoid false or “planted” DNA samples from being submitted.

5. Send Finalized Kit

After completing your DNA obtainment kit, you will likely send it to the laboratory who is going to test the samples for results. See if shipping and handling of your kit are included in the price of test, or if you will need to find your own means of shipping. The finished sample kit will reach your testing laboratory where certified scientist will run the information and get results as soon as possible.

6. Receive Results by Mail or Online

With today’s advanced technologies, most DNA testing laboratories can have your paternity test results in as little as 3-5 days’ time. To ensure complete confidentiality and indiscreet results, you will usually have the option of selecting to receive your results by mail or through an online medium like email. If you want to keep your results discreet, finding a medium like an online email account can help you get the answers without making a big scene at your home.

For anyone who has ever wondered how to get a paternity test, you may now see that it is really quite simple and the results can be sent to you in just a matter of days.

Ancient Greek ships carried more than wine

If you ask me, the Greeks are by far the most remarkable ancient people, laying the base for science, philosophy and even art as we know it today. They also loved to trade, in order to achieve the means for the life they desired. However, we are only learning how and what they used to trade.

Ancient historians believed Greek sailors were using amphorae (ancient storage units) to transport and trade wine – but as it turns out, the Greeks once again are surprising.

Led by archaeologist Brendan Foley from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and geneticist Maria Hansson from Lund University in Sweden led the study, which retrieved DNA from amphorae found on the bottom of sunken transport ships. As expected, some of them contained grape DNA, consistent with the wine theory; however, others contained traces of olives, presumably from olive oil, but the analysis also revealed DNA hits from honey, ginger, walnut, fish, juniper, legumes, mint, oregano and thyme – a surprising collection of products.

Scientists hope to take this study one step further and figure out what the Greeks trasported during dfferent periods. Here is the abstract of the paper, as present on Nature.

Ancient DNA trapped in the matrices of ceramic transport jars from Mediterranean shipwrecks can reveal the goods traded in the earliest markets. Scholars generally assume that the amphora cargoes of 5th-3rd century B.C. Greek shipwrecks contained wine, or to a much lesser extent olive oil. Remnant DNA inside empty amphoras allows us to test that assumption. We show that short ∼100 nucleotides of ancient DNA can be isolated and analyzed from inside the empty jars from either small amounts of physical scrapings or material captured with non-destructive swabs. Our study material is previously inaccessible Classical/Hellenistic Greek shipwreck amphoras archived at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Athens, Greece. Collected DNA samples reveal various combinations of olive, grape, Lamiaceae herbs (mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage), juniper, and terebinth/mastic (genus Pistacia). General DNA targeting analyses also reveal the presence of pine (Pinus), and DNA from Fabaceae (Legume family); Zingiberaceae (Ginger family); and Juglandaceae (Walnut family). Our results demonstrate that amphoras were much more than wine containers. DNA shows that these transport jars contained a wide range of goods, bringing into question long-standing assumptions about amphora use in ancient Greece. Ancient DNA investigations open new research avenues, and will allow accurate reconstruction of ancient diet, medicinal compounds, value-added products, goods brought to market, and food preservation methods.