FAQs for DNA Origins

Frequently Asked Questions

When will my results be ready?

Remember, results may not be ready for 6 to 8 weeks after receipt of specimens in the laboratory. You will receive an email when your results are in.

What is the difference between the DNA Origins test and other ancestry tests?

DNA Origins is a unique test in that it gives you percentages of your ancestral makeup based on markers across your 22 pairs of autosomes (non-sex chromosomes); therefore, it takes into account contributions from your full spectrum of ancestors. Other ancestry DNA tests, such as the maternal and paternal lineage tests offered here, only examine the maternally inherited mtDNA, or the paternally inherited Y-DNA. These latter tests give you information about your direct maternal and paternal lines, as shown in the diagram below.

What is Race?

Race in general usage includes both a cultural and biological feature of a person or group of people. Given the fact that physical differences between populations are often accompanied by cultural differences, it has been difficult to separate these two elements of race. Over the past few decades there has been a movement in several fields of science to oversimplify the issue declaring that race is "merely a social construct". While, indeed this may often be true, depending on what aspect of variation between people one is considering, it is also true that there are biological differences between the populations of the world. One clear example of a biological difference is skin color. There is a strong genetic component to the level of pigmentation in a person's skin and there are dramatic differences across populations. Pigmentation is, however, only skin deep and really a simple heritable trait in light of the complex environments in which we all live and how these environments affect our individual and group quality of life is far beyond our ability to understand as scientists.

The biological feature of race is largely based on the genetic structure of human populations. This structure is a nested hierarchy from East to West where populations in the Americas and the South Pacific are a subset of the genetic diversity found in Eurasia which itself is a subset of the diversity found in Africa (Shriver and Kittles 2005):

It is clear that the human species is relatively young. As a species, we most likely originated in east Africa, according to most archaeologists, 100,000 to 300,000 years ago, and diverged as groups, expanded, moved, and settled the globe. During these migrations, and in the time since, there has been some degree of independent evolution of the populations that settled the various continents of the world. The simplest evidence of this evolution can be seen in the differences in allele frequencies at genetic markers. Generally, we see that alleles found in one population are also found in all populations and the alleles that are the most common in one are also common in others. These similarities between populations highlight the recent common origin of all populations and strong connections between populations throughout human history. However, there are examples of genetic markers which are different between populations and it is these markers, called Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs), which can be used to estimate the ancestral origins of a person or population.

Race is a complex and multivariate construct that we tend to over simplify but in our analysis, we are measuring a person’s genetic ancestry and not their race. Your DNA has no recorded history of your political, social, personal or religious beliefs. It is a simple four letter code that records all of the changes in the DNA from one generation to the next. We report those changes, they are like finger prints and snow flakes, unique and wildly complex.

What is BioGeographical Ancestry (BGA)?

BioGeographical Ancestry (BGA) is the term given to the biological or genetic component of race. BGA is a simple and objective description of the Ancestral origins of a person, in terms of the major population groups. (e.g. Indigenous American, East Asian, European, sub-Saharan African, etc.). BGA estimates are able to represent the mixed nature of many people and populations today. In the US, as in many other countries across the globe, there has been extensive mixing among populations that had initially been separate. In the fields of human genetics and anthropology, this mixing is referred to as admixture. BGA estimates can also be understood as individual admixture proportions, which take the form of a series of percentages that add to 100%. For example, a person in question may be found to have: 75% European; 15% African; 10% Indigenous American ancestry, or they may be found to have 100% European ancestry.

How is BioGeographical Ancestry estimated?

The DNA Origins test uses an especially selected panel of Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) that have been characterized in a large number of well-defined population samples. These markers are selected on the bases of showing substantial differences in frequency between population groups and, as such, can tell us about the origins of a particular person whose ancestry is unknown. For example, the Duffy Null allele (FY*0) is very common (approaching fixation or an allele frequency of 100%) in all sub-Saharan African populations. Thus, a person with this allele is very likely to have some level of African ancestry. After the analysis of these AIMs, in a sample of a person's DNA, the likelihood (or probability) that a person is derived from any of the parental populations and any of the possible mixes of parental populations is calculated. The population (or combination of populations) where the likelihood is the highest is then taken to be the best estimate of the ancestral proportions of the person. Confidence intervals on these point estimates of ancestral proportions are also being calculated.

How accurate is the DNA Origins test?

The DNA Origins test provides your ancestral proportions based on years of collaborative research of populations representing 4 ancestral groups. This research identified 144 informative markers in our DNA, called Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs).

The results typically give you a 95% confidence interval, which is a measure of the statistical strength of the test. The only way to achieve 100% accuracy in an ancestry test would be to go back in time and test each and every one of your ancestors. Since this is impossible, we rely on statistics to make a prediction of your most likely ancestry mix.

The scientists who developed the DNA Origins test have conducted extensive validation studies with various numbers of markers to create a test that was economically feasible as well as provides the most robust statistical data. The first version of the test used 71 markers—today we test 144 markers to obtain a much higher confidence level while keeping costs to a minimum. In a validation study that used a simulated 100% European population, for example, the test results showed less than 3.3% of total average contribution from African, Indigenous American, and East Asian ancestry, indicating the level of "statistical noise" that is to be expected from the results.

How can BGA estimates be used?

  • Studies to understand health disparities require independent, objective measures of BioGeographical Ancestry (BGA). Are there genetic contributions to the higher rates of hypertension and diabetes in African Americans or the higher rates of dementia in European Americans? If not, then what are the cultural or environmental differences that underlie the prevailing differences?
  • Estimates of BGA could help reconnect individuals separated by adoption, or some other event, with their ancestral populations.
  • Even if a person is not particularly motivated to reconnect with ancestors, he or she could uncover the past of their family either to verify family legends or to search for forgotten roots.
  • It could allow customers to compare their ancestral proportions to others in their family, town, city, or state who have chosen to participate. Because it is based on DNA, and unlike the census, this new tool could provide the most accurate demographics data that is possible. We could call this our "personal demographics" tool.

What is the medical significance of BGA estimates?

The medical significance of BGA estimate is negligible. Although some diseases are found at different frequencies in populations across the globe, hardly any are restricted to one group. The usefulness of BGA estimates, in biomedical research, comes from epidemiological analysis where many individuals are analyzed together to make very general statements about differences in risk. Even though these results can be very significant, they have almost no meaning regarding the level of risk for any one person in the population.

How is BGA analysis different from mtDNA and Y-chromosomal lineage analysis?

An mtDNA and Y-chromosomal lineage test provides a different view of someone's ancestry. It traces the direct, unbroken maternal and paternal lines, respectively, going back to a common ancestor that lived several thousands of years ago. Although these tests could provide information regarding the provenance of some of a person’s ancestors, they are limited in that they do not provide information about the contributions of non-lineal ancestors; for example, spouses along the direct maternal and paternal lines.

For example, one generation ago a person has two ancestors, one mother and one father; five generations ago, a person has 32 ancestors; while 10 generations ago, a person has 1024 ancestors. Ten generations is roughly 250 years and within the time frame of genealogical interest, especially when we are considering the settlement of North America, because they only look at two (2) chromosomes. Y-chromosomal analysis and mtDNA analysis each could only provide information on a very small proportion of a person’s ancestors. Our test relies on sequences throughout your genome, so we can say more about a greater number of your ancestors.

Can BGA provide more specific information about ancestry?

The current BGA test that AncestrybyDNA™ is offering, DNA Origins, provides information on the proportions of ancestry on the continental level for most continents, Indigenous American, European (which includes European, Middle Eastern and South Asian groups such as Indians), and African, but we distinguish ancestries within Asia and the Pacific Rim by adding East Asian, (which includes the Pacific Islanders) as an additional group.

My proportions were 85% European and 15% East Asian, and the East Asian part surprised me. How reliable is the 15% part of the profile?

The 15% East Asian means you most likely share sequence identity with East Asians at some markers. Studies have indicated that, although there is a measurable level of noise in the test, we do see a pattern of minor contribution among certain populations.

Your range bars and confidence intervals are also part of your answer. The values within these determined ranges represent other possible outcomes that are statistically significant but are less likely. Therefore, if your range bar on the bar graph includes values greater than zero, you should consider that possibility.

How can I confirm the significance of a low percentage of admixture, such as 4% Indigenous American or 3% African?

There are two ways for you to confirm the value of this estimate:

  • You may have access to historical records or other provenance that leads you to confirm or refute the admixture. For example, if your records suggest that you have a grandparent of East Asian heritage and you register with the test as of 5% East Asian, the two observations combined make a stronger case for East Asian ancestry than either on their own.
  • You can obtain the admixture proportions for your father and mother. Let's say you register with 4% African and you want to know whether this 4% is in error or is accurate. You obtain the admixture proportions from your parents and each is 100% European. Chances are the 4% was a result of statistical noise. However, if your mother was 15% African and your father was 100% European, your non-zero percentage of African is likely to be an accurate indicator of African ancestry.

I think I have American Indian heritage, but my test results show that I am 100% European.

  • Barring adoption and paternity issues, your range bars and confidence intervals are also part of your answer. The values within these determined ranges represent other possible outcomes that are statistically significant but are less likely. Therefore, if your range bar on the bar graph includes values greater than zero, you should consider that possibility.
  • Without direct genetic testing, it is uncertain that your ancestor was 100% Indigenous American. If you only had one such ancestor in your family this would make detection all that much more difficult. In addition, the number of generations between a limited number of ancestors with Indigenous American markers and your self will also influence the probability of detecting such a connection.

I think I have American Indian heritage, but my test results show more East Asian than Indigenous American admixture. Am I wrong or is the test wrong?

  • Your results are derived to how well you compare to our reference populations. Your range bars and confidence intervals are also part of your answer. The values within these determined ranges represent other possible outcomes that are statistically significant but are less likely. It is probable that your intervals and ranges encompass a number of values for both Indigenous American and East Asian populations and this should be considered when questioning these types of results.
  • 5 Generations ago, you had 32 Great Grandparents, all of whom contributed to your genetic makeup. Understanding the contributions from each of these individuals is difficult. It is possible that some of these people had some minor East Asian component and their contributions are influencing your results.

I thought I was purely of Scandinavian origin, but my results show minor East Asian admixture. How is this result possible?

In our testing we've observed a number of samples from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe that exhibit some East Asian admixture. This is probably due to past migrations and is possibly telling us something about the interaction of various groups in those regions. In addition, cultures from these areas traveled to regions of Asia and it does not seem unreasonable that children may have been produced from some of these travels introducing new genetic markers into the Scandinavian population.

How accurate are the minor (<10%) admixture scores?

Pedigree studies have shown that the level of admixture follow known inheritance patterns, supporting the validity of these low values. However, as stated above, the confidence intervals are important for understanding your results and the scores are the most likely estimates from your DNA. If your confidence interval is greater than zero your value may be within the statistical noise threshold of the test and should be considered a possible result.

Has the science for the DNA Origins test been published in the scientific literature?

  1. Parra, E., Marcini, A., Akey, J., Martinson, J., Batzer, M., Cooper, R., Forrester, T., Allison, D., Deka, R., Ferrell, R. and M. Shriver. 1998. Estimating African American Admixture Proportions by Use of Population Specific Alleles.Am. J. Hum. Genet. 63:1839-1851.
  2. Pfaff, C., Parra, E., Bonilla, C., Hiester, K., McKeigue, P., Kamboh, M., Hutchinson, R., Ferrell, R., Boerwinkle, E., and M. Shriver.2001. Population Structure in Admixed Populations: Effect of Admixture Dynamics on the Pattern of Linkage Disequilibrium.Am. J. Hum. Genet. 68:198-207.
  3. Parra, E., Kittles, R., Argyropoulos, G., Pfaff, C., Hiester, K., Bonilla, C., Sylvester, N., Parrish-Gause, C., Garvey, W., Jin, L., McKeigue, P., Kamboh, M., Ferrell, R., Pollitzer, W., and M. Shriver.2001. Ancestral Proportions and Admixture Dynamics in Geographically Defined African Americans Living in South Carolina.American Journal of Physical Anthropology 114:18-29.
  4. Frudakis, T., V Kondragunta, M Thomas, Z Gaskin, S Ginjupalli, S Gunturi, V Ponnuswamy, S Natarajan, and P Nachimuthu. 2003. A Classifier for SNP-Based Inference of Ancestry. Journal of Forensics Sciences. 48(4):771-82.

Once I have submitted my order, what happens next?

Once you've collected your DNA sample and returned it to us in the pre-paid postage envelope, please allow 6 to 8 weeks from the time you place your DNA samples in the mail until you receive your results. This will allow time for mailing, processing, and testing of your samples.

As soon as we have completed the analysis you will receive an email indicating you can go online to retrieve your results in the secure members area.

How do you redeem kits using a promo code or discount coupon?

  1. Visit www.ancestrybydna.com and click the "Order" button.
  2. Enter your COUPON/voucher number in the "Promo Code" box.
  3. Complete the ‘Account’ and ‘Shipping’ information to complete your purchase.

Is there a way to correct my e-mail address when entered incorrectly?

Please contact us about this issue and provide us with detailed information so we can look up your account and correct the problem.

I purchased a discount voucher and was charged the full amount?

Please contact us about this issue and provide us with detailed information so we can look up your account and correct the problem. Please include your voucher number.

How do you fix kits purchased under the wrong name?

Please contact us about this issue and provide us with detailed information so we can look up your account and correct the problem.

Will I receive confirmation of my purchase?

Yes. You will see a thank you page outlining the ‘Next Steps’ and you will also get an confirmation email after your transaction has been processed. Please allow one business day for us to process your transaction.

What is my order status?

Please allow 6 - 8 weeks from the time you place your DNA samples in the mail until you receive your results. This will allow time for mailing, processing, and testing of your samples. You may log in through the members area to see if your results are ready at any time. You will get an email once your results are ready letting you know you can log in through the ‘Results Login’ tab to retrieve your results.

Is this DNA information you are gathering stored, submitted or sold to any sort of Master Data base or a company that has a database of this sort?

The DNA data generated in the test is used only to generate the report provided to the client and is purged from the system once the testing is completed and the report released. The DNA information is not submitted or sold to any company or organization.

What is done with the results and raw data that you have on each person once this information is determined and presented to the owner?

Once the testing is completed and the results provided to the client, all raw data is purged from our system.

Do you sell this information or any parts of this information to third parties?

We DO NOT sell any of the information obtained for the testing to any third parties.

Do you compile additional information from the DNA sample not presented to the owner and create data to sell to third parties?

We do not test the DNA for additional markers other than those to generate the DNA Profile, which is provided to the client.

Can the DNA Origins™ kit be shipped overseas?

We are currently conducting tests in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, and can only ship to these countries.