Is ancestry com a legitimate website

MyHeritage, AncestryDNA, 23andMe & Co Is genealogy research with genetic tests-to-go reliable?

In the USA, genetic tests to go have been selling well for a few years: a DNA test costs between 60 and 120 dollars from providers such as MyHeritage, AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Customers should be able to find out where their ancestors come from, according to the advertising promise. The allegation is that the genetic information shows which ethnic groups the ancestors belonged to. This offer is particularly popular with white Americans.

Now the trend is also spilling over to Germany. YouTube in particular is teeming with videos of young Germans with or without a migration background who have taken a test. The small films are popular because of the emotions: A Youtuber screams when a provider tells her that she is a few percent Greek. A babbling girl bursts into tears when the test shows her that her ancestors come from everywhere but not from Germany. Others are amused or just amazed.

But is genealogy research with a DNA smear really that easy? And what about data protection? Is it really safe to send a cotton swab with its genetic information to a laboratory in the USA?

Parentage is not directly investigated

"The commercial providers only examine regions of the genome in which individual people differ. This applies to so-called SNIPS, i.e. single-nucleotide polymorphisms," says Martin Moder. He is a molecular biologist at the Center for Molecular Medicine at the University of Vienna and has explained his specialty in several books.

The science slammer is enthusiastic about the possibilities of genetic research. During his studies, he himself had a commercial provider do a genetic test and then analyzed the result. However, he is a little skeptical about the informative value of the origin analyzes.

You can't see where DNA has walked in the past. You can only see where certain variants occur how often and assign accordingly which regions my current genome corresponds to how much. We all come from Africa very far back in time. Then why doesn't 23andme display Africa for all? Because the providers do not directly measure ancestry, but look at what probability which gene regions occur where today.

Martin Moder, molecular biologist

Insufficient data protection

Isabell Bartram is very critical of the commercial Gent test providers. "It is noticeable that the tests are getting cheaper and cheaper," says the biologist. She works for the Gen-ethical Network, an NGO that deals with the consequences of genetic engineering. "This is because they give other companies usage rights to their customers' data. Often you have to agree that the DNA can be used for research purposes. What exactly happens to this data is very unclear."

DNA is not ordinary information, warns Bartram. Under EU law, it is particularly worthy of protection, because every person can be identified individually based on their DNA. "Both the loss of DNA traces and the analysis technology cannot be controlled by those affected," she says.

In addition, the providers offer very poor data protection, if at all. An analysis by data protectionists with regard to the provider AncestryDNA came to the conclusion that the offer in no way meets the requirements of European data protection regulations. Then there are the usual cybersecurity issues. For example, MyHerritage was recently hit by a hack that lost passwords.

Risk of stereotypes

The medical ethicist Tina Rudolph from the University of Jena finds the attractiveness of the tests understandable. "I can find relatives all over the world. It's very easy, you just have to give a saliva sample and you have the chance to learn a lot about yourself." So-called plausibility declarations are also tempting, she explains. "Now I know, for example, why I like Spanish food when I have a certain percentage of the genes from this region."

But this thinking is also problematic. The tests show that you belong to certain groups. Conversely, you don't belong to others. "They can explain characteristics and affiliations for themselves. This can also reinforce stereotypes and delimitation."

That is not out of thin air, says the molecular biologist Martin Moder. "There is a study that shows: If I take two groups that are historically in conflict and give them an article on genetic differences, then they behave more negatively towards the other party to the conflict. But the other way around: you give them to read about genetic similarities , the potential for conflict is reduced. " Proportionality is also important. "When we talk about genetic differences between populations, we are only talking about 0.1 percent of DNA. 99.9 percent are identical! We have so much more in common than what separates us."

Nobody can prove, for example, with a genetic test that they are "bio-German".

Our knowledge of the genome in particular contradicts this. The division into races according to skin color is nonsense, you can see that, for example, with black Africans. The genetic differences between different populations of dark-skinned people from Africa are greater than, for example, between Northern Europeans and Asians, although they look very different.

Martin Moder, molecular biologist