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DNA testing has become widely used, especially within the last few years with the commercial DNA testing industry expanding rapidly. This background on the industry and options will be useful for anyone who isn’t a genomics specialist.
DNA, consisting of 46 chromosomes in humans, carries the genetic information of all living organisms. It can be found in every of the 6 billion cells in our bodies. DNA also contains the genetic history of our parents, grandparents, and other relatives. While DNA is 99.9% the same for all people, that 0.1% difference is enough to provide information about us and our families.
Most DNA testing companies provide two types of services to consumers — ancestry and health tests.
This type of DNA test is difficult to summarize as it contains a lot of data and information about someone’s past, often going back more than 8 generations. There are three different types of ancestry tests — autosomal, Y-DNA tests, and mtDNA.
Autosomal tests consist of complex information about the genes of your parents, grandparents, and previous generations. On average, it includes information dating back approximately 200 years and about 500 people from your family tree. The test contains information about both sides of your family. There were times in history when people migrated, traveled, and wars happened that resulted in ethnic mixing. Companies often use terms like race, region, population, and nationality to describe where you come from or what your roots are.
But this information is not always 100% accurate. If the test says you are 10% Native American, it doesn't necessarily mean you are, but rather that based on company data and their algorithm, you belong to this group. So while the information you obtain from these tests may be interesting, don’t take them as the ultimate truth.
Another thing that plays a role in the accuracy of the data is how large of a database the DNA testing company uses. If their database is not large enough, they might provide you the wrong information about which region your genetic origins come from. Second, if they offer to connect you with your unknown relatives, it may appear as though you don't have any unknown relatives because they don't exist in their system.
Y-DNA and mtDNA tests
Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are similar. The difference is that the Y-DNA test is based on the Y chromosome in males, but mtDNA is based on mitochondrial DNA, which can show the information that has been passed from a mother to her children. Some scientists think that these testing methods provide the most accurate information, but at the same time, these tests may not provide a complete picture of genetic ancestry. For example, it is impossible to track your grandmother from the father's side with either of them.
Another service DNA companies provide is a health test that may provide you with information about sickness, inherited diseases, and genetic illnesses. Before choosing any of the tests, we strongly suggest you talk to a representative of your chosen company to find out more.
The most common way companies provide health information is by comparing your DNA to the “standard” DNA. If there is any deviation from the norm that is associated with any illness, they will be able to provide this information to you. But that doesn't always mean that you have genes for a particular disease. Like we mentioned before, DNA is so complex that more detailed research is needed to be 100% sure. It could help you by showing where you should pay more attention or do some more testing, but don't accept it as the ultimate truth.
DNA testing can be a fascinating way to get to know more about yourself and your family, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee you will find what you were looking for. Perhaps you will find out completely new information about yourself and will want to do extra research. Also, if you are looking for unknown relatives, keep in mind that they may not have the same excitement level as you have. We strongly recommend that you read all of the information provided by your chosen company. You may want to read the contract and give extra attention to the sections concerning privacy, data collection, database size, and methods used. If you have any questions, contact the company directly before ordering the kit.