Date: Friday, 08 February 2019
Manny: Commercial DNA tests have been a huge trend lately. They were some of the most popular holiday gifts last year. Which makes sense, there’s so much excitement in learning more about yourself. Some tests can shed light on health risks you might have, but the main ones tell you the composition of your ancestry.
Habtay Ocbazghi: It looks like DNA is helpful to trace your origin, but for me, I already know my origins.
Manny: That’s my dad, he’s very proud of me because I’m doing great things in life.
Clip: Manny: Chicken number one kills chicken number two in this competition.
Habtay: I was born in Eritrea. Eritrea is located in Northeast Africa.
Manny: His family kept a detailed record of their ancestors so that they would never forget where they came from.
Habtay: Up to the sixth generation, I know even where they are buried and where they used to have their farm lands. Some people crossed from Asia and people stayed in Africa. They lived together during war, during peace, and they intermarried.
Manny: I wonder though, could this be more accurate than a DNA test?
Habtay: I’m not that familiar with DNA but if it tells the origins of humans, your DNA will classify you as heavily African and partly Asian.
Manny: Let’s find out! I ordered two DNA tests – the Helix test from National Geographic and 23andMe. Unboxing the tests was kind of exciting. They were neat and they had simple instructions. Generating enough spit was a challenge and I’m so sorry you have to watch this. A few weeks later…
Let’s start with National Geographic’s Helix test. The results classify me as East African. It says that 62% of my DNA can be traced to the continent of Africa and 36% can be traced to Asia. This is in line with what my dad predicted, but I’m a little skeptical that my Asian ancestry is so prominent.
Helix also noted that 2% of my DNA could be traced back to Europe. Specifically, the West Mediterranean. This region does include Italy, which did occupy parts of the Horn of Africa in the 1800s. Which could explain part of that 2%.
One thing that struck me about the Helix test was its description of East Africa. It tells me that my ancestry is associated with the birthplace of humankind, as well as the departure point for human migration out of Africa. This made me feel like a key part of human history. If only this ancestral journey didn’t lead to a man who spends hours making SpongeBob memes.
Now let’s look at the 23andMe test. 94.6% Eritrean, Ethiopian. 2.4% Sudanese and 0.3% Broadly South Asian. This test puts much more emphasis on my African ancestry and a lot less on my Asian ancestry. There was also no mention of any European ancestry. This makes a lot more sense to me, but I wonder how two separate DNA tests can produce such different results.
Robin Smith: So we take your DNA and compare you to reference data sets from around the world.
Manny: Robin Smith is 23andMe’s Group Product Manager. To find out your ancestry, DNA tests compare your DNA with DNA from people around the world. And depending on the company, these reference data sets can vary.
Smith: Seeing your results here, it looks like Ethiopian and Eritrean so that’s a group for which, you know, maybe a few years ago we wouldn’t have had much of a data set but now because of our size we got a lot of data from that region so we’re able to provide very good granularity there.
Manny: Some regions of the world aren’t as represented as others in these reference data sets, leading to some disappointingly vague results for some customers. Thankfully my DNA tests were pretty accurate, but at the end of the day, they just confirmed what my dad already knew.-