30 August 2012

Ancestry.com and the DNA Business - Oil and Water?

I am beginning to think I have this title correct...

Oil being the slippery Ancestry.com, and their jumping into the Gene Pool is the water.

Obviously, whatever the analogy, the two are not mixing well, at all!

When Ancestry.com first tested Y-DNA there were errors in predicting haplogroups.  It was discovered that they did not do the proper SNP testing and were using some online guides to predicting a person's haplogroup or twig on the world family tree (Phylogenetic Tree).  I had several people in different audiences who told me of this delimma as well.  Two first cousins were predicted as R1b and G haplogroups.  Later testing determined they were indeed first cousins, but as any person, even those new to DNA, knows you have to have the same haplogroup to be closely related.

So, fast forward...Ancestry.com has decided it is in their best interest to offer autosomal testing.  Previously, I mentioned a few issues in this blog with their attempt to join the other companies in this field and the issues that have surfaced.

The following post from Debbie Kennett, with her kind permission, is an update on some of the problems. After reading her post, I urge all of you to read my criteria on choosing a genetic testing company.

I also might add that in my post for the 2012 WDYTYA (Who Do You Think You Are?) Conference in London, Ken Chahine was in the audience of a Family Tree DNA presentation....obviously he was there to learn like the others...or checking out the competition!  Too bad he didn't take better notes!

AncestryDNA's response to my request for my raw genetic data

As discussed in my previous blog post one of the major drawbacks of AncestryDNA's new autosomal DNA test is that they do not currently allow their customers access to their raw genetic data. Ken Chahine,the Senior Vice President and General Manager, DNA, at Ancestry.com has publicly stated at a meeting of the Presidential Committee for Bioethical Issues in Washington, D.C., his belief that "the customer retains ownership of their DNA and their data" [my italics]. Thegenetic genealogy blogger CeCe Moore has been told by John Pereira, the Vice President of Business Development at Ancestry.com, that Ancestry "are genuinely considering the best way to deliver this data to us". However, Ancestry are also taking into consideration the feedback from other customers and it appears that allowing customers access to their raw genetic data is not currently a priority.

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, the other two companies that offer autosomal DNA tests for genetic genealogists, both allow their customers to download their DNA data files from their personal accounts. If Ancestry are intending to introduce such a feature it will inevitably take time to implement the necessary IT infrastructure. In the meantime I decided to contact Ancestry.com about the possibility of obtaining a copy of my autosomal DNA raw data file as it would surely be a simple matter for them to e-mail this file to me. I contacted Ancestry through their
CustomerServices Department. They replied very promptly apologising for the "frustration" regarding my raw DNA data. I was told that the "DNA project is still very new and in the beta testing stage. Our developers are currently in discussions regarding adding a feature that will allow members to download their DNA data." In the meantime Ancestry are encouraging members to send them feedback by clicking on the "Beta Send Feedback" button that appears in the top right corner of your DNA page. They advised me that their "developers are going through this feedback and basing a lot of their decisions on what we are hearing from our members".

However, Ancestry did not reply to my question about receiving my genetic data so I replied asking once more if they could send me my file. They again replied very promptly but I was told "Currently we are unable to send you a file with your raw DNA data. We apologize for any frustration this issue may have caused and appreciate your feedback. We have forwarded your message on to our feedback department." I was also given a telephone number in the US that I could ring, but as I am in the UK a transatlantic telephone call is not a realistic proposition. Ancestry do have a UK telephone number but as their DNA test is not being actively marketed in the UK, I do not imagine that I will be able to get any answers from them.

I can appreciate that logistically it might be difficult for Ancestry's customer services reps to arrange for customers to receive data files as the files are probably held elsewhere. It is, however, very disappointing that they are unable to fulfil their promise and I hope the issue will be addressed as soon as possible. I cannot recommend anyone testing at AncestryDNA for the present unless and until this problem is fixed.

As AncestryDNA clearly do not think that allowing customers access to their own genetic data is a top priority I would urge everyone who has tested with them to submit feedback requesting access to their personal raw data files. Ancestry do not appear to be replying to comments that are submitted through the Feedback button. A question I submitted last week asking for information about the British reference populations used for their admixture predictions has not been answered. I would therefore suggest that, in addition to submitting feedback, everyone also writes to
Customer Services asking for a copy of their raw genetic data file. If enough requests are received then perhaps Ancestry might consider implementing this basic and essential feature.

A DNA project administrator in the US who is on the
ISOGG project adminsmailing list has advised that he has received good support when talking to Ancestry on the phone. If anyone in the US is able to ring Ancestry I would be very interested to hear what they have to say about this issue.

© 2012 Debbie Kennett

 AND, besides Debbie's blog, please read Roberta J. Estes' blog DNA Explain for her post entitled:  Is History Repeating Itself at Ancestry?  Roberta's blog is very much to the point referring to quesitonable ethics, and the issues with Sorenson, GeneTree, Relative Geneics and Ancestry (who still doesn't do SNP testing).  She hits all the points that are troubling those of us in the Genetic Genealogy world.  She writes about how Ancestry boldly lied to the blogger who discovered an adoption-sibling error, and how they failed to tell testers that they must have a subscription to Ancestry to see their matches in the future.  There is so much more.
Roberta's blog is a MUST READ!
Since Ancestry is still not doing SNP testing, it appears they never learned from their first attempt at playing in the gene pool.  Well, there is the shallow end for the babies who haven't learned to swim, and from Ancestry's past history, they may never get to play with the big boys if quality is involved!
As genealogists you want to do quality reesarch, and you want the same quality in DNA testing. 
Choose wisely!
30 Aug 2012

24 August 2012

Autosomal Testing: Genetic Genealogy's Current Buzz-Word

A Buzz-Word; Don't Get Stung

The BUZZ around genetic genealogy circles is that autosomal testing is GREAT for genealogy, but with one company, you could get STUNG!

A few years ago I posted on how to choose a company for DNA testing.  That was before autosomal testing arrived on the scene, but the guideline are still very useful.

Thousands have already tested their autosomal DNA and more companies are seeing a profit in offering this type of test.  Until recently the major players were 23andMe and Family Tree DNA.  Now Ancestry.com's DNA testing arm (AncestryDNA) is offering autosomal testing.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) is found throughout our genome and in all 23 pairs of chromosomes.  It is recombined at every conception and gives us, among other things, our physical features so that we look like our relatives, but not exactly unless someone is an identical twin.  The test for this type of DNA allows males to match females and helps determine relationships.  You can learn if your matches are likely to be 1st cousins or 4th cousins or aunts and uncles, if your 2nd cousin is really related to you (one of mine was not!), if you have half-siblings, etc.  This gives you more relatives to help on your genealogy, and it can straighten out your family tree.  It is great for adoptees as matches are usually within six generations on your pedigree chart.

Those who have tested several relatives have become interested in determining which sections of their DNA came from which ancestors.  This is a growing trend and makes it much easier to find a common ancestor with a complete stranger who is related to you.  This is called Chromosome Mapping.  Others wish to phase their data to know which allele (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, or Thymine) came from each parent on each SNP.  There are many citizen scientists in the field of genetic genealogy who are recognized by some of these companies and these companies listen to them.

After all, the educated public knows what it wants when it comes to genetic genealogy and those companies that listen will benefit.  Members of the community of genetic genealogists have big voices and do speak to hundreds and hundreds of people.  (Personally, I have given presentations to many hundred just this year.)  The genealogy public turns to the genetic genealogist whenever possible to understand DNA testing.  We know what works and let our followers know.

That brings me to today's subject.  With the three major companies now doing autosomal testing for genealogists, only AncestryDNA will not let you see your raw data.  For some that may be of no interest, but later many from the general public may wish to do the chromosome mapping or phasing I previously mentioned.  For others that is a major factor in their choice to test or not to test with AncestryDNA; hence, those who aren't interested in chromosome mapping right now will be deprived of some matches as many of us are doing chromosome mapping and phasing.

You cannot see your own raw data even though AncestryDNA states that it is YOUR DNA. BUT, their consent form requires that you allow THEM to use it for research which could mean profits to them.  At this point, there is no way to opt out of allowing them to use it for their research, other studies, or anything else they choose.  So...it's OUR DNA, but we can't see it, but they can use it?  Hummm....that bee stings!

Currently, the AncestryDNA company isn't listening, so I'm urging all of you who pick a company just because they have a nice sale that week, because they have extensive ads, or because they tell you how easy everything is, beware.

A good genetic genealogy company provides the following:

1.  A large database
2.  A variety of products to meet a variety of needs
3.  Sales several times a year
4.  Excellent customer service by email and by phone
5.  Wonderful webpages to help you find out about your DNA test
6.  Matches on your DNA that you can contact directly
7.  Excellent FAQs (frequently asked questions) to help you understand everything
8.  Project managers who, even though they are volunteers, understand testing and can help you
9.  Storage for your unused DNA sample so you can upgrade or order a new test as needed
10.  A stable company with a solid business policy
11.  A method preventing your data from being used for anything other than your personal use.  If the company wants to use it, they need to contact you regarding the study and have you sign papers allowing it.
12.  An ear to the customer, listening to what is needed and what more is desired to help their genealogy

Please read the following blogs from two very fine genetic genealogists. Follow their blogs, you'll learn a lot! Each blog hits upon one of the current issues at AncestryDNA.  Do not be mistaken that these issues aren't widespread among the genetic genealogy community and it reaches beyond US borders.  From that community (thousands strong), I have not read one positive comment regarding these issues.

Robert J. Estes, scientist and genetic genealogist

CeCe Moore, genetic genealogist

Scroll down to the post, if needed.

Choose wisely and do not get stung!  These are not the only issues with AncestryDNA.  If you do not have a subscription you can access your matches, but cannot see the "trees" that connect.  ALSO, the admixture they are doing is wrong in some cases:  See Debbie's post (from the UK) entitled:  My Ancestry autosomal DNA Test

Sorry to omit your blog Debbie!

If any of you have questions, please contact me directly.

24 Aug 2012