Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Coming Down the Ethnicity Admixture Pike

Fasten your seat-belts! The year 2016 reveals two of the major direct-to-consumer DNA companies — AncestryDNA ($99 US) and FamilyTreeDNA's FamilyFinder ($99 US) — will be updating their Autosomal DNA tests' ethnicity admixture tool and reference population clusters. AncestryDNA pleasantly surprised some of us with a temporary preview to its upgraded "Ethnicity Estimate" (now in BETA stage) shortly after announcing kits will available in 29 additional countries, while competitor FamilyTreeDNA promised a new version of its FamilyFinder "myOrigins" for the first quarter of this year at its 11th International Conference of Genetic Genealogy. I cover both offerings in this blog.

Let me tell you something! We've been thirsting hard for such updates, like waiting for admixture Godot stuck in a traffic jam of displeasure because our current results never quite stack up to our expectations and beliefs. Just four years ago our admixture estimates were infantile at best; our admixture was clumped into three to five broad continental-level categories. In rearview, AncestryDNA was first to market on October 17, 2013, with its finer-scale "Ethnicity Estimate" [see story here]. Soon after on November 19, 2013, 23andMe announced an update to its "Ancestry Composition" [see blog here]. And finally on May 6, 2014 FamilyTreeDNA introduced myOrigins, a make-over of its former admixture offering [see Roberta Estes blog here]. It's worth noting on August 10, 2015 National Genographic 2.0 updated its product with an overhaul of reference populations and "regional affinities" [see article here]. Currently 23andMe is caught up in a transition quagmire after winning FDA green-light to market health testing [see Estes' DNA-Xplained] so it's not clear when an upgrade to its "Ancestry Composition" (arguably the best admixture tool in show) will be released. Newcomer TribeCode hasn't announced a timeline for future changes to its Next Generation Sequencing-based "Ethnicity Composition" (which includes 62 reference population clusters). But before we sojourn on the long road ahead, we need to make a quick pitstop so I can gas your think-tanks up with some premium food for thought: