Genetic Ancestry FAQ
Q: What is a genetic ancestry test?
A genetic ancestry test is an estimation of a person’s genetic background where we link the person to populations that are associated with broad geographic regions.
Q: How do they work?
These tests compare the variation in an individuals’ genetic code with the genetic code of large groups of people from different areas all over the world, called reference populations. Reference populations are created by identifying people who have been located in the same area of the world for a long time, and generally haven’t had many people moving in or out of the area. Matches between the person taking the ancestry test and these reference populations are identified and the population is included in the person’s genetic ancestry profile.
Q: How should I interpret my results?
Results of a genetic ancestry test should be put into context with a person’s personal family history, historical documentation and oral history. A person’s identity is not just where their genetics are from, it is whatever makes up who they believe they are and what they feel connected to. Some ancestry tests also provide details into medical and disease risks of the person, which should be discussed with their physician as part of the discussion on the person’s overall health, including diet, exercise and their environment.
Q: Can ancestry tests be wrong?
Genetic ancestry tests are designed to be as accurate as possible in finding areas of the world with people that share a similar genetic code to the person taking the test. However, there are few areas of the world that have not seen movement of populations in and out over the course of human history. Scientists use statistics to figure out the probability that certain changes in the genome are due to ancestry from a certain area, and then combine the most likely origins for these variations into a program. While it is not a perfect system, it is fairly accurate due to large reference populations providing a lot of data that is used to connect genetic variations to populations of origin.
Q: Does my genetic ancestry determine my race?
No. Race is a social construct with roots in colonization as a way to divide, rank and control people based on the notion of superiority of some groups over others. While your genetic ancestry can influence your physical traits, personal identity, and personal experiences around others, it cannot be used to prove the existence of strictly bound racial categories. For more information on this, note the American Anthropological Association’s official statement on race here.
Q: What does your lab do with the genetic data from the participants in your studies?
We do not share participant’s information with any parties such as employers, insurance companies, personal physicians or relatives. To ensure confidentiality, names and contact information are not stored with the genetic sample, instead being replaced by a unique code number. If participants ever decide to quit the study, their information and genetic sample will be destroyed. Samples can be used for further related studies, but only with participant’s permission.