Home DNA testing has exploded in popularity in recent years, with millions of people around the world using these kits to learn more about their ancestry and genetic health risks. However, while standard DNA tests that you are all familiar with offer valuable insights into modern-day populations, they will never be able to provide a complete picture of an individual’s ancestry, particularly if their ancestry includes ancient populations that are not well-represented in modern-day databases.
The reason is the way these tests are constructed.
When you are told that you have 5% French ancestry, it is the same as saying that 5% of your genome is similar to 5% of what most people who self-defined themselves as French have. In other words, it is a consensus. Your genome may have more than 5% French ancestry or less. It may not even be from France, because this test is low resolution and cannot zoom in on Western Europe very well or because neighboring populations are poorly represented compared to French.
This is where ancient DNA tests come in.
Current DNA tests can be skewed due to migration patterns or limited data pools (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
Ancient DNA tests are the next generation of home DNA tests, offering unprecedented insights into the far-distant past. These tests analyze DNA extracted from ancient specimens, such as bones and teeth, and compare it to modern-day populations or individuals, such as yourselves, to determine ancestry and evolutionary relationships .
Home DNA tests that use ancient DNA can provide unique insights (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
One of the most successful examples of ancient DNA testing is the Neanderthal test, which I developed for the GenoGraphic Project. This home DNA test was made available to consumers in 2005. The Neanderthal test has provided unique insights into the ancestry of modern humans, showing that many people carry a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA due to ancient interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, the GenoGraphic Project and the test are no longer available.
How much Neanderthal DNA do you have? Now, you can take a home DNA test and find out! (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
Over time, ancient DNA sequencing matured. It turned out that the Neanderthal test was just the tip of the iceberg regarding ancient DNA testing. Now it is possible to get at-home DNA tests against ancient populations and ancient individuals, some of whom are known by name from historical records!
In collaboration with Ancient Origins, Ancient DNA Origins made available twenty ancient DNA tests that allow anyone to explore their ancient ancestry, considering a wide range of ancient populations, from Hebrews to Vikings to Native Americans . These tests offer a level of detail and accuracy that simply is not possible with standard DNA tests, which are based on modern-day populations that may not accurately represent the genetic makeup of ancient populations.
What makes ancient DNA tests unique?
Several factors distinguish ancient DNA tests from your typical home DNA test. For one, they allow you to go beyond the limitations of modern-day populations and genealogical records and delve into the deep ancestry of your ancestors by following the residues left in your DNA. With an ancient DNA test, you can learn about the specific populations and migrations that contributed to your genetic makeup, helping you to better understand your place in the grand scheme of human history.
Of course, not all the information has survived the passage. Some exist in your siblings and relatives, and some are gone forever. The challenge with ancient DNA tests is to recover the little that is left. For that reason, I employ a powerful machine-learning algorithm that can make sense of what we call “Big Data” (millions of DNA bases collected from thousands of individuals separated over space and time).
If you’re thinking of how we used to count mutations in Y or mitochondrial haplogroups, those days are well behind us.
Home DNA tests utilizing ancient DNA can reveal your ancestral connections over time and space (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
Another advantage of ancient DNA tests is that they can provide valuable insights into traits that you may have inherited from your ancestors. Traits like eye color are caused by mutations that occurred in ancient populations, which have been passed down through the generations. By analyzing ancient DNA with home DNA tests, scientists can identify these mutations and determine how your trait has been passed on to you over time.
Analyzing ancient DNA with home DNA tests, scientists can identify specific mutations and determine how your traits have been passed on to you over time. (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
Finally, ancient DNA tests are a great way to learn more about the diversity of the human species. As our understanding of ancient DNA improves, we are learning that the genetic makeup of modern humans is much more complex and diverse than we ever realized. By exploring the genetic diversity of ancient populations, we can gain a better understanding of how different populations evolved and interacted with one another over the course of human history.
If you’re looking to reconnect with your ancestors, home DNA tests are now available that use ancient DNA for new insights (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
Will your home DNA test reveal your connections to famous people?
In addition to the Neanderthals, ancient DNA analyses have already help to study historical figures. To name a few:
1) Ötzi the Iceman (OK, he was not VIP in ancient times, but he is now!): Ötzi is a well-known ancient mummy discovered in the Alps in 1991. Because he was buried in ice, his 5,000 year-old body was remarkably well-preserved, allowing scientists to extract and analyze his DNA. Ötzi’s DNA has provided valuable insights into the genetic makeup of ancient Europeans, through his ancestry, diet, and health.
2) Tutankhamun: Tutankhamun (King Tut) was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled from 1332 to 1323 BCE. This boy king took the throne of Egypt at eight or nine years of age and relinquished it a decade later. His remains were discovered in 1922. Analyses of his DNA revealed that he likely suffered from a number of genetic health conditions, including malaria and sickle cell anemia.
3) King Richard III : King Richard III was an English monarch who ruled from 1483 until his death in 1485. His remains were discovered under a parking lot in Leicester in 2012. Analyses of his DNA confirmed his identity (i.e., his relatedness to other members of the royal family) and showed that he had a number of genetic variations associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions, such as increased risk of cancer and lactose intolerance.
4) Napoleon Bonaparte : He is likely the most famous French statesman and military leader, who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and its associated wars. Bonaparte’s remains were exhumed in 1840, and his DNA was analyzed in the 21st century, which confirmed his identity. Napoleon likely suffered from several health conditions at his death, including a stomach ulcer and arsenic poisoning.
Are you related to the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel? A home DNA test can uncover your ancient DNA secrets. (Enkigen Genetics Limited)
These are only a few examples of how ancient DNA can open a window to the past like no other tool can do. Overall, ancient DNA tests offer a unique and unparalleled window into the distant past. Whether you are interested in exploring your own ancestry, or simply want to learn more about the diversity of the human species, ancient DNA home DNA tests are an exciting and informative tool to help study your own ancient ancestry.
Top Image: The latest innovation in home DNA tests uses ancient DNA to reveal unique insights into ancestry. Source: cooperr / Adobe Stock
By Dr. Eran Elhaik