Garrett Hellenthal, statistical geneticist at the Genetic Institute, University College London, gave a very interesting talk at the recent Who Do You Think You Are convention in England on the science of how DNA companies predict ethnicity. Given that ethnicity is the main reason why the majority of clients get their DNA tested at AncestryDNA, it is a very good overview of just how the different DNA testing companies arrive at their ethnicity conclusions.
When you choose not to opt out of the research component when you first sign up for AncestryDNA, your DNA results as well as your public family tree are used as data for scientific research. Although this can include the use of your results by third party companies with associations with AncestryDNA, it is also used for projects like the new article that has published in Nature Communications. This article examines recent migrations within the United States and reveals ethnic clusters that are supported by DNA data.
You can read about the research on the Ancestry Blog:
Nature Communications publishes AncestryDNA breakthrough on genetic communities
You can read the open access article in Nature Communications:
Clustering of 700,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America
About half of the people who do DNA tests just want to know their ethnicity. In this article, leading genetic genealogist Roberta Estes gives you an overview of what “ethnicity” results can and cannot tell you about your ancestry:
Ethinicity Results: A Conundrum
A letter from a group of geneticists, published in this months Science magazine, suggests that the term “race” is no longer acceptable as a biological category because it is fraught with political and social ambiguities and is a reminder of the bad-old-days of eugenics. I wonder then if the term “ethnicity” that is used by the major DNA testing companies shouldn’t also be reconsidered. I notice that on the FTDNA webinars they tend to use the term “biogeographic regions” instead when discussing ethnicity results.