14 May 2008

UK paper: DNA testing 'a rip-off'

According to the UK's Daily Mail, ancestral DNA test kits are a rip off because an Ancestors magazine (published by the UK National Archives) deputy editor tested with three companies and received three different results, raising suspicions.

Here's the Daily Mail story (link below), as well as the response from Family Tree DNA (which was NOT one of three tested companies).

£200-a-time ancestral DNA test kits are a rip off, say experts

They are popular with those who want to delve thousands of years deeper into their family history than the documents at the local records office will allow.

But DNA heritage tests, which can cost up to £200 a go, could be worthless, according to a leading journal.

The tests are supposed to reveal where a subject's ancestors came from by comparing their genes to those of others from around the world.

Family tree: with DNA heritage testing firms each giving wildly different results, the tests should just be treated as fun, says Ancestors magazine

The popularity of the tests has boomed over the past five years as the technology to build genetic databases developed.

Tens of thousands of the tests are estimated to have been carried out in Britain.

But firms which carry out the tests are providing results that often appear to have nothing to do with applicants' biological or genetic backgrounds, Ancestors magazine claims in its latest edition.

Deputy editor Penny Law sent DNA samples to three firms - but each came up with different ancestries, suggesting her origins were either in East Asia, Spain or the near East.

'All were working from the same DNA with the same technology so to come back with different results is suspicious,' she said.

Law said that some DNA tests can be used for family history but that heritage DNA tsts should be treated as fun, "you can't rely on them."

Here are the three companies tested, the charge, the results, and company response:

International Biosciences, £199
Result: East Asia - an area covering China, Japan and Korea.
Response: "We're perfectly happy with the way we do the tests. We've never had any complaints."

Oxford Ancestors, £180
Result: Velda, a clan mother who lived in modern-day Spain.
Response: "We have had a number of clients who have found discrepancies with results from other firms."

Ancestry DNA, £90,
Result: Near East - including areas such as Turkey, Palestine and Jordan - 25,000 years ago.
Response: "Ancestry DNA said it provided a 'good level of accuracy,' although a spokesman added: 'The science is still in its infancy and will develop as time goes on.'"

Read the complete story here.


Family Tree DNA was not one of the three firms selected and I asked for a comment to the story. VP of operations and marketing Max Blankfeld responded with the following letter to group administrators, and wrote to both the Daily Mail and Ancestors magazine:

Dear Fellow Genealogist,

This week an article was published in the UK newspaper Daily Mail, quoting Ancestors Magazine, under the title: "£200-a-time ancestral DNA test kits are a rip off, say experts", by Andrew Levy.
The article was based on tests by the following companies: Oxford Ancestors, Ancestry DNA, and International Biosciences.

Family Tree DNA was not contacted for testing purposes, nor mentioned in that article. Having tested over 350,000 individuals (over 100,000 of our direct customers and 250,000 participants in National Geographic's Genographic Project) we could supply anyone who asks us with thousands of examples that prove the opposite of what the article stated.

Unfortunately, the journalist's conclusion is based on opportunist companies who noted our success and jumped into Genetic Genealogy to get a piece of it, but who did not have the science or the database that would allow for a serious work. Again, note that Family Tree DNA was NOT one of the companies that the journalist approached.

About 2 years ago, Oxford Ancestors announced to the world that they found a descendant of Genghis Khan living in Florida - a Caucasian accountant. Family Tree DNA proved that Oxford Ancestors was wrong. Tom Robinson, the person in question, recounts the entire story in his blog. The Associated Press later distributed the news: "Robinson, an associate accounting professor at the University of Miami, canceled a planned trip to Mongolia after learning of the new results. He said he never sought publicity on his ancestry. "The results that Family Tree DNA gave me are pretty conclusive," he said. "I’m certainly not going to look for any more tests on Genghis Khan."

Family Tree DNA is proud to have the largest database of its kind in the world (more than all other companies combined), to adhere to the best science in the field, and to be the expert source for journalists from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among others. National Geographic would not tarnish their century-old reputation by partnering with us.

That article, in the end, demonstrates the following:

- While Family Tree DNA prices are in line with other companies, price is not the only thing that matters when choosing a DNA testing company

- Science and database size are important factors when choosing a testing company

You are welcome to share this e-mail with whomever you feel necessary, and we make ourselves available to anyone with questions about our work.

Max Blankfeld
Vice-President, Operations and Marketing
"History Unearthed Daily"

1 comment:

  1. I feel that DNA testing is a very accurate and precise science and that if the tests were done correctly, then the statements made in the article would be true.