I attended the AncestryDNA presentation by Senior Product Manager, Kenny Freestone, in hopes of learning what new and exciting features Ancestry has on the horizon for genetic genealogists. There was not much new information presented, but there were a few things that I thought might be worth mentioning:
1. In response to questions about AncestryDNA's plans for adding a chromosome browser or segment data, Kenny repeated that Ancestry is working on something that would give their customers access to that type of data, but that it would be something different than what current chromosome browsers offer. No date was provided for launch or when such a feature might appear. He did admit that at this point the tools that Ancestry has for triangulating data are quite lacking. This tells me that they recognize that there is a need for these features. I can only hope that when these new tools are finally released that they really are as good as what they are claimed to be. I found it very interesting that he used a slide showing how he inherited DNA from a set of third great-grandparents and that he illustrated chromosomes, but that Ancestry provides their customers no way to view this type of information.
2. In a somewhat related slide, Kenny showed several of his lines that had been "confirmed" by DNA shaky leaf hints. He said that this was "independent" evidence that his tree was correct. As readers of this blog know, unfortunately you cannot always say that is the case. As a serious genealogist and scientist, I continue to find the lack of segment data to be a problem. In both disciplines it is imperative that data be able to be reviewed. On the genealogy side of Ancestry's site, they do provide the actual images or data in many instances. When viewing any educational video by Ancestry, there is always encouragement to look at the actual image, as it contains so much more information than the transcription. I just cannot understand why this same level of access to the underlying data is kept hidden on the DNA side of their site.
3. Kenny was asked a question by someone who has Jewish background regarding why there are so many matches at a high level and yet no common ancestor is discovered. Genetic genealogists who have worked with endogamous populations know this can a difficult problem. Kenny did say that they are actively working on this issue, but have not yet come up with a solution.
4. I have long wanted to understand the cut-off levels for how AncestryDNA is predicting matches. For example, if AncestryDNA predicts that you are a 1st - 2nd cousin to a match, then how much total DNA do you share with that person and how many segments do you share? 23andMe and FTDNA have always provided this information. Kenny flashed the following slide, which may be helpful in determining the parameters they are using for predictions:
200 megabases for 2nd cousins
150 megabases for 3rd cousins
100 megabases for 4th cousins
30 megabases for 5th cousins
20 megabases for 6th cousins
10 megabases for those further out
This slide raised a question as to whether or not AncestryDNA is using centimorgans or megabases in their matching algorithms. Kenny clarified that they are using a combination. They switched to using centimorgans in November - December 2013. If you tested recently, then your matches are in centimorgans. If it was prior to that date, then your matches are in megabases.
5. Kenny told us that the communication/contact rate between DNA customers was twice that the communication rate between regular customers.
6. An audience member asked if Ancestry stored the sample for future/other tests. Kenny didn't directly answer this and said that as the science improves that they will just apply those improvements to the current test. He did say that the only thing better than their test was a full genome sequence, and for that a new sample would need to be submitted.
7. I appreciated the fact that Kenny emphasized that the ethnicity information is an ESTIMATE. It is important that we all remember that the science that each company uses to give us our admixture is still in it's infancy and that each company uses different reference populations to do so. It behooves all of us to take this information with a grain of salt no matter which company we test with.
8. Kenny did a great job answering several questions from audience members regarding Y-DNA and mtDNA testing that were completely unrelated to the product that AncestryDNA offers. Attendees even had specific questions about surname and haplogroup projects. This highlighted the need for those of us in the genetic genealogy community to reach out to the genealogists and help them to understand the power of DNA. Things we take for granted such as the three types of tests and the companies that offer these tests can be confusing. If DNA is to be effectively used as a genealogical research tool or record, there is a significant amount of education that will need to be done.
9. Lastly, after the presentation, Kenny showed me that Ancestry has a new "spit kit." The return box and packaging are much more compact now and the kit itself is a bit different. I asked if there were plans to offer some type of assisted collection kit or "cheek swab" as the spit kit can be difficult for older individuals. He said that they recognized this was a need and that Ancestry probably would do something to address it, but that he couldn't confirm anything.
|The new AncestryDNA Kit - Packaging|
|AncestryDNA Kit Contents|
|AncestryDNA Compact Return Mailer|
Thanks to Angie for this AncestryDNA/NGS update!