If you’re one of the many thousands of genealogists that have tested your DNA in the hopes of better understanding your genetic heritage, you’ll be excited to hear that there is a new way to analyze your results — and it’s free.
In October 2015 a new project from Columbia University researchers and the NY Genome Center went public, promising free ancestry reports and relative matching in exchange for allowing your raw genetic data to be part of an eager new research initiative.
The project is DNA.Land and this week they made an exciting change.
According to their website, “DNA Land is a place where you can learn more about your genome while enabling scientists to make new genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity. Our goal is to help members to interpret their data and to enable their contribution to research.”
At first, I admit, I was cautious about joining the project — after all we are talking about a very personal contribution to science. But after reviewing the straightforward privacy and consent information I decided to take part. I like knowing that my genome may help scientists in their quest to better understand human biology, history and disease — such as the genetic risks of breast cancer — which DNA.Land is studying in partnership with the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC).
I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way, nearly 17,000 people have contributed their genetic data thus far. And the number is growing daily.
I also like that DNA.Land has taken the time to provide genetic ancestry information to participants, and this week they launched a much improved ancestry inference report. This detailed new report shares specific populations that you show a match to and presents them in well-designed charts.
Take a look at the results I received when I originally uploaded my data, compared to the results from the new report released just a couple of days ago.
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As you can see, the second report accessed on 4/9/16 is much more refined and more closely matches my data from MyOrigins (the ancestry report from FTDNA’s Family Finder test), the calculators on GEDMatch and my own genealogy research.
Update: On 4/12 my results from DNA.Land changed again. Here is the new report. If you’ve already uploaded your DNA to this site, you may want to check back to see if you have an update as well.
In addition to the ancestry charts, a map showing which reference populations you match in regions across the globe is offered, as well as an actual breakdown of each population included and not included in a population category.
Daniel Speyer, the Computer Science Masters Student at Columbia that proposed and helped create this new initiative, and lead researcher Yaniv Erlich, have written a detailed breakdown on how the new reports were created and how to best decipher them. The information is simply stated and is a must-read for anyone trying to understand just what these new results really mean.
In the article the researchers caution against assumptions that can lead to confusion.
Suppose the best match we can find for some part of your ancestry is to a group of ethnic Khmer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Does this mean you have Khmer ancestry? Not necessarily. This is the best match among those we tried, including the Kinh in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, the Dai and Han in various parts of China and the Telugu in India. We did not, for example, compare you to the Thai, because it is not part of the reference data. So what does happen if someone of Thai ancestry uses our service? They get matched to the closest population we have data for, which we guess would be the Khmer. Therefore we summarize “Closer to Khmer than to Kinh, Dai, Han or Telugu” as “Cambodian/Thai.”
If you plan to take part in this project we suggest that, while you are waiting for your results to come in, you read the article closely. It will help you understand just what your report can tell you about your genetic heritage.
DNA.Land also offers a relative finder feature but, currently, I show no matches there. Given the relatively small participant size this is to be expected and there are certainly other good reasons to join the project.
So, how do you join the initiative?
If you’ve already done this, head over to DNA.Land and click the “Login or Register” button and follow the steps. They even give you instructions for how to download your raw data from any of these three companies for use on the site.
Once your genetic data is uploaded, results come back very quickly. I received mine in about 24 hours. However, the improved reports are causing an influx of new participants so you may find yourself waiting a bit longer.
As with any project or website that accepts genetic information, you will want to take the time to read all of the terms and conditions before participating. DNA.Land’s privacy and consent page can be found here and their help page can be found here. It is important to understand how your data will be stored and used before uploading it.
For those who are new to this topic, Family History Daily has a basic how-to on genetic testing for genealogy here — although some of the data may be somewhat outdated since testing services are always changing. We suggest you read this page from ISOGG if you need more help and information on the topic.
And one last word of caution — never, ever download and share the genetic data of another person without their permission. Always ask family members whose tests you manage before sharing their DNA anywhere.
We’d love to hear about your results if you decide to join this project, or have already done so.
~ By Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily Editor
Image: Miss Margaret D. Foster, Uncle Sam’s only woman chemist, 1919. Library of Congress