Thursday 13 September 2018

MyHeritage now accepts transfers from Living DNA and 23andMe but will soon start charging for some features

MyHeritage have announced that they can now accept uploads from people who have tested at Living DNA and on the 23andMe v5 chip. Both these companies currently use the Illumina Global Screening Array chip, which has very limited overlap with the chips used by the other testing companies.

MyHeritage have also announced that they will soon be introducing charges to access some features. Here's an extract from their blog.
As of December 1, 2018, our policy regarding DNA uploads will change: DNA Matching will remain free for uploaded DNA data, but unlocking additional DNA features (for example, ethnicity estimate, chromosome browser, and some others) will require an extra payment for DNA files uploaded after this date. We will announce the full details of the new policy once it is finalized, closer to December 1st. All DNA data that was uploaded to MyHeritage in the past, and all DNA data that is uploaded now and prior to December 1, 2018, will continue to enjoy full access to all DNA features for free. These uploads will be grandfathered in and will remain free.
To read the full article click here.

If you've not yet added your kit to the MyHeritage database make sure you do so before the deadline. MyHeritage have some useful features for interpreting results, and they are also promoting their tests in some European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, that are poorly represented in the other company databases. MyHeritage also have a useful feature which allows you to see the countries where your matches live. Although my match list is still dominated by distant matches with Americans I now have 368 matches with people living in Britain as well as 130 Australian matches. I have quite a few cousins in Australia that I'm hoping to make connections with. It's always a good idea to have your DNA represented in all the databases as you never know where you're going to get the breakthrough matches.

Updated Ethnicity Estimates now available for everyone at AncestryDNA

I wrote back in June about my updated Ethnicity Estimate at AncestryDNA. Yesterday AncestryDNA rolled out the updates to everyone in their database. Many people will find that the changes are quite dramatic. I went from being just 21% Great Britain to 94% England and Wales, and my results are now a much better reflection of my recent ancestry within the last few hundred years. There have been a few tweaks since I got my results and the England and Wales cluster has now been renamed as England, Wales and Northwestern Europe.

The improvements have been made possible by the inclusion of many more people in the reference panel, which has now gone up from 3,000 to 16,000 samples. Previously Ancestry had just 111 samples from Great Britain, 138 from Ireland and 166 from Europe West. Now they have 1,519 samples from England, Wales and Northwestern Europe, 500 from Ireland and Scotland, 1,407 from France and 2072 from Germanic Europe. AncestryDNA are also using a different methodology and are comparing long stretches of linked markers rather than single markers in isolation. This means that the results are a reflection of our more recent ancestry within the last 500 to 1000 years rather than our distant ancestry from one thousand or more years ago.

AncestryDNA have written a White Paper explaining the methodology, which includes details of all the reference populations used. They will also be publishing a scientific paper about their methods.

Most people with British and Irish ancestry have found that their results are greatly improved and are much more in line with their known ancestry. The results will be more mixed for people from other countries. You can only be matched to the populations in the reference panel so if your country is not represented you will be matched to the next closest population. For example, AncestryDNA now has reference populations for Norway, Sweden and Finland but no distinct dataset for Denmark. Danes are therefore likely to get matched with Norway and Sweden or England, Wales and Northwestern Europe.

India, with a vast and diverse population of over 1.3 billion people, is poorly represented with just 65 samples from Western and Central India. There is also still a long way to go to get more meaningful results for people with African ancestry. There is more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world combined, which means that much larger reference panels are needed to capture this diversity. Ancestry are addressing this problem by starting an African Diversity Project, and we can look forward to further improvements in the years to come.

I always used to say that "ethnicity" estimates should be taken with a large pinch of salt and are really only of entertainment value, but we are now starting to get the stage where the results for some people can provide a reasonable approximation of their ancestry. If you've already done your family history research, the results won't tell you anything more than you already know, but at least there should now be a lot less confusion. As more populations are added to the reference panels we can expect to see similar improvements for other populations.

Update 15th September 2018
AncestryDNA will be presenting a poster at the ASHG conference in San Diego in October on Polly, the algorithm they are using for their updated ethnicity estimates. Here are the details:
PgmNr 2772/W: High-throughput local ancestry inference reveals fine-scale population history 
Authors:A. Sedghifar1; S. Song1; Y. Wang1; K. Noto1; J. Byrnes1; E.L. Hong1; K.G. Chahine1; C.A. Ball2 
1) AncestryDNA, San Francisco, CA.; 2) AncestryDNA, Lehi, UT.  
An individual’s genome can be viewed as a mosaic of haplotype blocks from different ancestral origins, the sizes of which depend on the timing of admixture events. Recovering the length of these local ancestry blocks, together with their ethnic origin, provides information on the admixture and recombination events that shape current day genomes, thus shedding light on personal history as well as population history. As genomic databases rapidly approach sizes on the order of millions of genomes, there is an increased demand for super efficient approaches to identifying local ancestry blocks. Our team has developed Polly, an ultra fast algorithm for estimating genome-wide ancestry proportions in admixed individuals. Here, we present a modification of the Polly algorithm for accurately inferring local ancestry blocks. We evaluated the performance of our algorithm on simulated admixed individuals, and also assessed accuracy of estimated tract length distributions in admixed populations. Finally, we applied our method to estimate tract length distributions in historically admixed African American and Latin American populations.
The poster can be seen here.

The ASHG abstracts can be searched here.

Further reading
I've provided links below to the various official documents from AncestryDNA along with links to a few other blogs which might be of interest.

AncestryDNA links

Friday 7 September 2018

MyHeritage partners with W H Smith to sell DNA kits in UK high streets

23andMe already sells DNA kits in some Superdrug stores in the UK as well as online. Now MyHeritage have announced that they will be selling their kits on your local high street at W H Smith's. The tests will be sold in a bespoke product known as the MyHeritage Family History Discovery Kit, which includes a three-month Complete plan subscription. This provides access to all the family tree features and historical records on MyHeritage.

Here is the press release I received from MyHeritage.
MyHeritage Partners with British Retailer WHSmith to Distribute DNA Kits

Tel Aviv, Israel & London, United Kingdom, September 7, 2018 — MyHeritage, Europe’s leading service for DNA testing and family history, announced today the launch of a retail partnership with WHSmith. This marks the first partnership of its kind for MyHeritage in the UK, and the first time that MyHeritage DNA tests will be available for purchase in retail stores in Europe.

Under the new partnership WHSmith distributes a unique product named MyHeritage Family History Discovery Kit, which bundles MyHeritage’s popular at-home DNA test with 3 months of access to MyHeritage’s suite of premium online genealogy services. This allows consumers to receive detailed ethnicity reports and connect with their relatives around the world through the power of DNA testing, and to utilize MyHeritage’s 9-billion-strong collection of historical records and family tree tools to embark on a journey to uncover their family history. 
The distribution of the kits via local retail stores caters to the surging demand for at-home DNA testing throughout Europe, and in the UK in particular. The affordable price of the MyHeritage Family History Discovery Kit available through WHSmith, £89, makes it an ideal gift for the Christmas season ahead.

The MyHeritage DNA test is notable for its ease of use. It involves a simple 2-minute cheek swab. In addition to the DNA test, the Family History Discovery Kit comes with 3 months of access to MyHeritage’s Complete plan, which includes all family tree features and historical records on MyHeritage, seamlessly integrated with the DNA test results.

“Interest in DNA testing and family history research in the UK market has skyrocketed lately,” said Akiva Glasenberg, MyHeritage’s Business Development Manager. “We have created a unique bundled product to satisfy this need and are pleased to offer it to UK consumers through selected WHSmith High Street stores. Customers can look forward to discovering their ethnic origins and family history and making use of MyHeritage’s vast DNA database and historical record collections to make new connections with their relatives in the UK and overseas.”

The MyHeritage Family History Discovery Kits are on sale in 200 WHSmith High Street stores, as well as online via