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Here’s what you need to to know about DNA heritage tests

What test is best for you?

dna testing kits
Image: tomydna

There is a way to know your family history in more depth than what is told by relatives or historical documents: after all, it is all there, engraved on our DNA. Genetic genealogy, which encompasses the so-called DNA testing of ancestry, is one of the modern methods of knowing who our ancestors were, where they traveled the world, and where and when our furthest roots were established.

The results of these tests can show the origin of the more distant ancestors, both maternal and paternal, and can also give a reasonable estimate of the geographic percentage of their genes  African, Amerindian, Asian, European, etc.

But how do these tests work? There are three types of genetic testing of ancestry, commonly used in genealogy studies.

Y chromosome testing

Genetic variations on the Y chromosome, passed exclusively from father to son, can be used to explore ancestry in the direct male line. This test can only be performed on men as women do not have a Y chromosome. However, women interested in this type of genetic test usually recruit a male relative to do so.

The Y chromosome test is most often used to investigate cases of genetic linkage with the same surname, since the pattern of many cultures is to carry the surname of the parent generations elsewhere.

Mitochondrial DNA testing

This type of test identifies the genetic variations in the DNA contained in the mitochondria. Although most DNA is compacted into chromosomes within the nucleus of cells, mitochondria (energy-producing cell structures) also have a small amount of their own DNA (known as mitochondrial DNA), which is passed exclusively by the mother.

Thus, this type of test can be used for both sexes, since all inherit this DNA from the mother. Mitochondrial DNA testing may be useful for genealogy because it preserves information about the direct female ancestral line, which may be lost in family historical records, since the mother’s name is not passed on in most cultures.

Genomic ancestry test / Single nucleoid polymorphism test

These tests evaluate large numbers of genetic variations throughout a person’s genome. It gives an estimate of the percentages of European genes, for example. The results are compared with those of other people also undergoing this test to provide an estimate of a person’s ethnic background.

For example, the SNP pattern (a given portion of the genome that reveals ancestral traits) may indicate that an individual’s ancestry is approximately 50% African, 25% European, 20% Asian, and 5% of unknown origin. Genealogists use this type of test because the results of the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests, which represent only individual ancestral lines, do not capture the general ethnic background of an individual.

What can the results be used for

The obvious use of the results is for an individual to learn more about the respective heritage, which can be both fun and interesting. On a large scale, results of genetic ancestry of several people can be used by scientists to explore the history of populations as they emerge, migrate and mingle with other ethnic groups.

However, there is also privacy-related fears accompanying these tests as, if they end up reaching authorities, it makes it really easy for them to access (and later use) the genetic information of millions of people.

Have you ever used a DNA genetics testing kit? Did the results seem accurate? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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24 y/o, born and living in Portugal. Majored in Biology, but tech and computers were always a passion. Wrote for sites like Windows.Appstorm and MakeTechEasier.


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