DNA Profiling

What is Ancestry DNA testing and how does it work? ITB investigates.

DNA testing. You’ve all seen how a DNA profile can be a plot changer on TV detective series and how paternity DNA tests are used on the likes of the Jeremy Kyle show, but do you know what ancestry DNA testing is and what it can show you?

An ancestry DNA test shows your bio-geographical ancestry in terms of world population. The results of your genetic profile give you your top matches with native populations from every corner of the globe, identifying populations where your DNA is most common. Put simply, it tells you where on the planet your ancestors come from.

How does ancestry DNA testing work?

Your DNA is profiled in a lab and your autosomal DNA extracted. This is the part of your DNA that is inherited from both parents. Using things called STR markers, your unique profile is compared to over 1200 world wide population groups to find out, literally, where you and your ancestors come from in the world.

How do you get the sample?

For ancestry DNA testing, you take your own sample at home. You’ll be sent a kit in the post with everything you need to collect your DNA. It’s actually a very simple process using a buccal (cheek) swab. This looks rather like a long-handled cotton bod, but the tip is made from a special fibre called dacron, which, when rubbed against the inside of your cheek, collects cells.

Does taking a DNA swab hurt?

No not at all. You do it yourself and it’s just like wiping a cotton bud on the inside of your mouth.

Your DNA is profiled in a lab to give you your ancestry results

Your DNA is profiled in a lab to give you your ancestry results

Then what happens to your DNA swab?

You then label up your DNA sample and send it back to the lab. Here the cells you’ve collected will be used to isolate and identify your unique DNA make up. Using a series of statistical algorithms, it is then profiled to create your ancestry population matches, telling you from where in the world your descendants (and therefore you) come from.

What does the ancestry DNA report tell you?

Understanding DNA profiling and ancestry matches is an in-depth analysis, so extensive reading notes are included with reports. In essence, in the top 20 of native populations matches, the highest score reflects your primary geographical affiliation. Subsequent scores are secondary regions were your DNA is also present.

Results are often presented as maps or tables to make interpreting and visualising your genetic ancestry easier. This means you can see the spread of populations (known as ‘tribes’) that are featured in your genetic make up and therefore tell from where you and your ancestors hail in the world.

Find out just where you come from in the world

Find out just where you come from in the world


How long does it take to get your DNA ancestry profile?

From collecting your sample, to getting your ancestry DNA results (which are sent out to you by post) you should allow around 10 days.

How far back does ancestry DNA go?

As well as recent ancestors such as parents, grand parents and great grand parents, ancestry DNA can now look back thousands of years to find out where your very distant ancestors came from too.

Why are ancestry DNA tests so popular now?

Just a decade ago taking a DNA test would have cost you around £300. With the advancement of technology and more laboratories around the world processing DNA in ever-quicker times, the price has come down. You can now get an ancestry DNA test for under £100.

In just 10 days and for less than £100, you can get your DNA ancestry report

In just 10 days and for less than £100, you can get your DNA ancestry report

Are all DNA tests the same then?

No. There are different tests for those wanting to confirm paternity or maternity, for example. DNA swabs are taken in the same way, but from all interested parties. The DNA is extracted and analysed by the same DNA laboratories, but it’s to show whether there is a genetic relationship. These are most commonly used to determine situations such as who is the biological father or mother, or whether children are full siblings or not.

Are all DNA testing services regulated?

No. Currently there is no regulation or code of conduct for DNA testing service providers. In theory anyone could set up a DNA testing service. The advice is for people interested in having their DNA analysed, is to seek out a laboratory that is Ministry of Justice approved. That means the lab has been approved for providing paternity DNA tests for legal reasons, with the results accepted by a court of law.

Why do a DNA ancestry test?

If you’ve already started looking at your family tree, an ancestry DNA test is a brilliant way to confirm the information you’ve already uncovered. If you’re curious about your genealogy but don’t know where to start or haven’t got the time, a DNA ancestry report gives you a real insight into your near and far descendants on both sides of the family.

In essence, being affordable and do-able by yourself, DNA ancestry tests have become viable options for anyone who’d like to discover more about their ancestry through DNA.

Look back to see where your recent and distant ancestors came from

Look back to see where your recent and distant ancestors came from

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