A Chief geneticist at a popular ancestry company admitted DNA test kits are’kind of a science and an art’.
One pair of identical twins, recieved two different ancestry profiles even though the results should be exactly the same.
CBC reported last spring, Marketplace host Charlsie Agro and her twin sister, Carly, bought home kits from AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA, and mailed samples of their DNA to each company for analysis.
Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies.
In most cases, the results from the same company traced each sister’s ancestry to the same parts of the world — albeit by varying percentages.
But the results from California-based 23andMe seemed to suggest each twin had unique twists in their ancestry composition.
According to 23andMe’s findings, Charlsie has nearly 10 per cent less “broadly European” ancestry than Carly. She also has French and German ancestry (2.6 per cent) that her sister doesn’t share.
The identical twins also apparently have different degrees of Eastern European heritage — 28 per cent for Charlsie compared to 24.7 per cent for Carly. And while Carly’s Eastern European ancestry was linked to Poland, the country was listed as “not detected” in Charlsie’s results.
“The fact that they present different results for you and your sister, I find very mystifying,” said Dr. Mark Gerstein, a computational biologist at Yale University.
Twins’ DNA ‘shockingly similar’
Marketplace sent the results from all five companies to Gerstein’s team for analysis.
He says any results the Agro twins received from the same DNA testing company should have been identical.
And there’s a simple reason for that: The raw data collected from both sisters’ DNA is nearly exactly the same.
“It’s shockingly similar,” he said.
The team at Yale was able to download and analyze the raw data set that each company used to perform its calculations.
An entire DNA sample is made up of about three billion parts, but companies that provide ancestry tests look at about 700,000 of those to spot genetic differences.
According to the raw data from 23andMe, 99.6 per cent of those parts were the same, which is why Gerstein and his team were so confused by the results. They concluded the raw data used by the other four companies was also statistically identical.
Still, none of the five companies provided the same ancestry breakdown for the twins.
“We think the numbers should be spot on the same,” Gerstein said.
“The story has to be the calculation. The way these calculations are run are different.”
When asked why the twins didn’t get the same results given the fact their DNA is so similar, 23andMe told Marketplace in an email that even those minor variations can lead its algorithm to assign slightly different ancestry estimates.
The company said it approaches the development of its tools and reports with scientific rigour, but admits its results are “statistical estimates.”
Family had told the Agro sisters their ancestors come from Sicily, Poland and Ukraine.
However, the results each sister received from the ancestry companies revealed some surprising — and, in some cases, conflicting — family history.
AncestryDNA found the twins have predominantly Eastern European ancestry (38 per cent for Carly and 39 per cent for Charlsie).
But the results from MyHeritage trace the majority of their ancestry to the Balkans (60.6 per cent for Carly and 60.7 per cent for Charlsie).
One of the biggest problems was the cost of genetic sequencing and how usually only wealthy whites could afford it. Post big-money acquisition, the primary focus for the company became reducing the cost of the tests through partnerships with the medical monopolies (big pharma, which now has a monopoly ownership on hospitals themselves as part of their business model), and Governments. They needed these partnerships to find ways to make the tests affordable that minorities would start using it. The social media push appears to have been a parallel to this marketing strategy.
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