Consumer genetics and genealogy company Ancestry has announced a new feature called SideView that gives customers information about which pieces of their DNA — and which parts of their ethnicity — are inherited from each parent. The tool can do that without having genetic information from the parents, which Ancestry says is an industry first.
Separating which parts of a person’s genome come from which parent is a challenge for researchers, said Barry Starr, director of scientific communications at Ancestry. “It’s really a big breakthrough for science in general,” he said The edge† “That’s really something that no one else has been able to do without having a parent tested as well.” The function will are automatically available to all users.
Genetic information is packaged in chromosome pairs, and each parent contributes one copy of most of the chromosomes. However, DNA analysis reads the sequence of genetic information without finding out which half different sections come from. Usually the best way to find out is by comparing sections with the DNA of one or both parents. But Ancestry developed a technique that uses the company’s large DNA database — which contains the genetic information of 20 million people — to find overlaps between each user and cousins or distant relatives, including in the system. It uses those overlaps to sort each section of the DNA from whichever parent it was inherited.
For a while, Ancestry was interested in developing a way to sort genetic information by parent, Starr says, but it had to wait until the DNA database was large enough to make the tool accurate. Now, with a database the size it is today, Starr says Ancestry can have 95 percent precision for 90 percent of customers. “The bigger the database, the better you can do,” he says.
However, the database is largely made up of people of European ancestry — the feature is less accurate for users with other ancestry from other parts of the world, according to a scientific paper by Ancestry describing the technique. The article has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. Blind spots around people of color are a long-term bias in genetic databases and genetic research more generally. DNA tests like Ancestry’s that link your genetics back to a particular ethnicity are also often criticized for giving people a incomplete photo of what genetic heritage actually means and mixing ancestry with race.
Initially, the SideView feature shows customers which side of the family different parts of their ethnicity come from. “Which side of the family did your German come from? Does your French come from? Et cetera,” says Starr. Eventually, people will be able to see which side of the family relatives identified through Ancestry come from. That will make it easier for people to keep track of family history and build family trees, he says.
The strategy Ancestry uses to distribute genetic information by parent may also help people understand more about their health and genetic risk factors, Starr says. For example, someone who has two copies of a particular gene from one parent may be at higher risk for a disease than someone who has two copies but one from each parent. Ancestors wouldn’t do that themselves — the company discontinued its health services in 2021† But the company is publishing its results and other groups could theoretically use that technique.
“This opens up all kinds of avenues for additional features and research,” Starr says. “I find it very exciting.”
SOURCE – www.theverge.com