Learn Your Genetic Ancestry With a Saliva Swipe
While we're waiting on the thousand-dollar genome sequencing, researchers have recently designed a new program that lets you learn your genetic ancestry right now with a quick cheek swab. The results take just minutes, and are 99% accurate.
Researchers from around the world have developed a computer program to make this all possible. While it's not quite fair to compare the project to the information in your personal genome, the program has advantages over current computer programs that reveal a person's ancestry.
Most programs today require prior knowledge of a person's ancestry and background, but this new algorithm is unique because it has no upfront requirements. Instead, it looks for specific DNA markers called "single nucleotide polymorphisms," or SNPs (pronounced "snips").
A SNP is a DNA sequence variation that differs between individuals of the same species. For example, a single nucleotide A, T, C, or G in a person's genome may differ from another person's. Scientists know that certain SNP sequences are common in one geographical or ethnic group, and may be much rarer in another. By comparing the DNA from a person's cheek to this data, they can match the person to the similar ancestral line.
The researchers tested hundreds of individuals, from a variety of different genetic backgrounds. The results from the algorithm were compared with genetic data from previous studies, including the HapMap database. Among humans, the genome is more than 99% the same between individuals. Some ethnicities, such as Japanese and Chinese, are very similar; the single error in the test occurred in an individual who was almost equal parts Japanese and Chinese.
The program could help people understand their unique backgrounds, as well as provide information for anthropologists about where different populations originated and how humans became such a diverse, global society, the researchers explained.
The algorithm could also have benefits for understanding individual health issues. While the program can't predict specific diseases--as understanding an individual genome will supposedly do--it can help scientists discover a genetic basis for complex diseases. Differences in genome sequences can cause individuals to have different responses to diseases, viruses, medications, and toxins.
"The program will be a valuable tool for understanding our genetic ancestry and targeting drugs and other medical treatments because it might be possible that these can affect people of different ancestry in very different ways," said Petros Drineas, the senior author of the study and assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
If researchers can uncover the tiny genetic details that set each of us apart, biomedical research and treatments can be better customized for each individual, he explained.
There is no word yet on the cost of learning your ancestral line using this method, or when it will be available for interested individuals. Hopefully, we may hear that soon.Lisa Zyga