How To Understand Your DNA Test Report
Have you ever wondered about who you are and what you’re made of? With the advent of the consumer DNA test, that information is well within reach. DNA testing is all the rage these days and it seems like everyone is doing it. Is it any wonder why? DNA testing provides a fascinating insight into yourself and your history. Testing services have come a long way in recent years and are now available to everyone–male or female, young or old. If you are considering buying a DNA kit, here is everything you need to know about taking the test and interpreting your results.
DNA Testing Process
When you receive your DNA testing kit, you will want to activate it online immediately. This is how the results will be associated with you. The activation process preserves your privacy and the integrity of the test.
Consumer DNA testing companies almost exclusively use saliva to analyze your DNA. Some companies use a vial that you fill with a small amount of saliva; other companies offer swabs that are used to swab the cheeks. In either case, you will collect the sample and return it to the company in the prepaid mailer.
Depending on the company you use, the testing of your sample generally takes anywhere from 4-8 weeks to complete. The vast majority of companies do not send out printed reports with your results. Instead, your results will be available on the company’s website when you log in with your email address or kit number and password.
Ethnicity From DNA Testing
One of the most popular reasons for taking a DNA test is the ethnicity results. People have an inherent desire to know about their roots and DNA testing can provide some insight. No matter which company you test with, you will receive a chart, graph, or map highlighting your ancestral origins. It’s important to note a few things about your test results:
- The ethnicity results from most companies reflect the origins of your ancestors from 500-1,000 years ago. So even if your great-great-grandparents came from Germany, for example, it is quite possible that their ancestors came from elsewhere. Your ethnicity results, therefore, provide you with the information you might not have been able to find with traditional genealogical research.
- Ethnicities are often reported in regions, rather than by specific country. If specific countries are named, keep in mind that the results could include the surrounding areas. If your results show Italian ancestry, for instance, consider the possibility that your ancestors may have instead hailed from Greece. This is because, over history, neighboring cultures have often intermarried, creating a mix of DNA.
- While ethnicities from particular countries may be mixed, continental designations are more precise. This means that you can trust that the continents are accurate, even if the percentages are very small or the region is broad. So if you have DNA estimated to be from the Ivory Coast, you can be certain that you have roots in Africa, and most likely from western Africa.
- Most DNA companies are continuously working on the science behind their ethnicity estimates. So revisit your results from time to time and don’t be surprised if your results change slightly. This is normal and represents greater accuracy.
DNA matches are another popular reason for taking a DNA test. When you take a test, as long as you opt into matching, you will be matched with everyone else in that company’s database who matches you on a genetic level. These matches are the people who share DNA with you and with whom you share a common ancestor. The majority of your matches will be third, fourth, fifth, or more distant cousins. In spite of this distance, they are related to you and if you are able to trace your family tree back far enough, you will find the common ancestor. Here are a few things to know about your matches:
- DNA companies estimate the nature of the relationship with a match and as a result, the stated relationship may not be exactly right. For example, a first cousin and a great-grandparent will each share about 12.5% of your DNA. So if your great-grandmother has tested, she will likely appear as a first cousin in your results.
- The amount of DNA shared between two matches is calculated in centimorgans. Some companies report the exact centimorgan numbers while others report the percentage of shared DNA. In either case, these numbers can help you pinpoint the nature of the relationship.
- The larger the company’s database, the more matches you will have. Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com respectively have the largest databases so they will provide you with more matches than some of the other companies.
- Be prepared for surprises. If your philandering great-grandfather or Great Uncle Casanova has unknown children out there, DNA testing may reveal it. For many people, this is a welcome surprise that can ultimately expand their families and friendships.
Health and Traits From DNA Test
Perhaps you are more interested in how DNA shapes your day-to-day life. Have you ever wondered why cilantro tastes like soap to you or why you have wavy hair? Maybe you’d like to know if you’re at risk for breast cancer or Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps you’re interested in how effectively your body builds muscle or which medications work best for you. In all of these cases, there’s a DNA test for that. Some companies, like Vitagene, specialize in this data. Most of the other companies offer a sampling of this information. Whether these things are the reason you’re testing or just an added bonus, please keep these things in mind:
- A predisposition to a disease does not mean you will have that condition. It just means you may be a bit more likely than the average person to have it.
- By the same token, the lack of a genetic predisposition to a disease does not mean that you won’t have it.
- Health and trait reports can be valuable tools and fun to explore but they should not be used alone to make any medical decisions.
Whatever your reasons for taking a DNA test, you are certain to find it to be an indispensable resource for learning about your history, family tree, health, and personality. The best part is, the results you receive are just the beginning of your journey. As you learn more about the results themselves, the science behind them, and the tools available to expand upon them, you’ll find that there is almost no limit to the personal insight to be gained.
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