Dig Into Your Genetic Origins With Living DNA

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The breakdown of my origins, in polka dotted avatar format.

Online DNA tests are becoming quite popular, with countless people buying or gifting kits. There are some really amazing services out there, and I’ve enjoyed the data I’ve gleaned from them all, since each one has a different focus and set of strengths. But if you’re looking to dig as deeply as possible into your genetic history in as much detail as possible, give Living DNA a look.

Living DNA

Launched just this year, Living DNA allows you to retrace the paths your ancestors took from where modern humans originated in Africa as they migrated around the world. (Which might be fun to recreate on a family trip! An epic family trip.)

Living DNA provides your ethnic makeup from 80 regions, including indicating specific areas within some countries. They currently have 21 regions within the British Isles and three within Italy, and Ireland and Germany regional breakdowns are soon to come, by the end of 2018. They plan to add many more specific area regions in the next five years.

They do all three of the DNA tests available (autosomal, motherline, and fatherline if you have a Y-chromosome) and charge less than others for the same services.

(Visit their website to see how Living DNA compares to the other services.)

Like other services, when you order a Living DNA kit, they ship it to you in the mail. Then you collect your DNA and send it back. And then wait for a while. They will let you know once your sample has been received, and then when it’s been analyzed.

With other services, I sent in a vial of saliva, but this one had a cheek swab. I’d never done a cheek swab before, and was slightly intimidated. You’re supposed to be firm with it but not to draw blood, so that was a bit tricky, but I guess I did it properly because my results seemed accurate.

Your Results

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Once you receive your results, you can look at your ancestry breakdown for the past 10 generations or so, in several different visual ways. Each of these can be seen through a complete, standard, or cautious lens, and you can look at the breakdown of the global picture, larger regions, or sub regions, which is particularly interesting at present if you have genetics from the British Isles.

The most unusual way to see your genetic origins is by looking at your Family Ancestry Visualization. The site creates a pretty avatar of you made from colored dots that convey your genetic makeup. Click on your avatar to toggle between sorted dots and unsorted dots. It’s a pretty fun interface. Next, you can see your Family Ancestry Map, which maps these origins on a world map. Finally, you can look at your results in the Family Ancestry Chart, which is a ring of color showing off your ancestral makeup, kind of like a pie chart without a middle.

Another way Living DNA shows off your family history visually is through their “Your Ancestry Through History” section. This animates a graphical representation timeline of locations and concentrations of common ancestor descendents from recent history to tens of thousands of years ago. They aim to go back as far as possible. On mine, for example, I can see it from the whole world’s perspective, just Europe, or just Great Britain and Ireland, since that is where my origins are concentrated. Press the “play” button and the timeline goes back in time slowly, so you can see, backward, the migration of your ancestors. In this way, Living DNA is the first service that enables users to see where their “ancestry family” was at different points in history.

Each of these sections also has a button labeled “Explore in Full” which takes you to more detailed explanations of what you’re seeing.

My Results

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I was excited to see my results. I knew my genetic origins were mostly British Isles with most of the rest being Western Europe, but Living DNA broke this down even further. My general breakdown wasn’t a huge surprise, as I’ve done other DNA tests before, but there was definitely much more detail to the Living DNA results, especially in the UK, where 77.4% of my ancestry comes from. A total of 22.5% of my ancestry is apparently from South East England, which was the landing point for many of the settlers who came to England from mainland Europe for a long time, with the other 54.9% scattered around the British Isles. My British Isles regions range from 1.6% to the aforementioned 22.5% encompassing 13 of the 21 regions, including some Welsh, Scottish, and Irish areas. I also have origins in the single digits from South Italy, North Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, which could possibly be indicitive of Roman migration patterns. I also have some ancestral bits in Scandinavia and France.

Not having a Y-chromosome, I was unable to evaluate the Fatherline results, but the Motherline looked at my mitochondrial DNA. This traced my direct maternal line back 200,000 years to Eve, a common mitochondrial DNA signature for my and other haplogroups.

On the Motherline Coverage Map, it shows that my haplogroup (I) was apparently likely present in the groups of people who first settled in Europe, but it’s guessed that it originated in the Near East between 19,000 and 26,000 years ago. The Living DNA results also break down the percentages of people in different areas of the world that share your haplogroup, based on the people in their database. Despite my “origins” being mostly in the UK, only 4% of people in the UK share my haplogroup, whereas 23% in El Molo (Kenya), 18% in Rendilles (also Kenya), 11% in Lemko, and 11% in Krk Island (Croatia), showing how interconnected we all are. Note that these are Living DNA’s estimates based on currently published literature.

Like many of us, my most ancient of ancestors were probably hunter/gatherer sorts. Living DNA shows their migration on a map, and it looks like my ancestors’ path took them from Kenya north through Africa to the Near East, and then to Northeastern Europe, and then west from there. Everyone in each haplogroup shares an ancient ancestor (10s of thousands of years ago), showing just how connected we all are on this planet.

About the Company

Living DNA‘s results mirror the genetic data that I’ve found with other tests, but they go even further, revealing one’s genetic origins tens of thousands of years back. A British company, Living DNA aims to make the world a better place by showing us all just how connected we are. They also donate 10% of their profits to charitable projects. For example, their One Family One World project works with schools around the world using DNA testing to show students just how we are all connected. They’re working to create the most detailed genetic map of people in the world. Eventually, participants will be able to choose to connect with others in the project to see how they are connected. They are especially looking for people to participate whose 4 grandparents were born within 50 miles of each other (unfortunately, I don’t qualify!). They will use this information to help them describe regional differences in people’s DNA by using proprietary technology that analyzes DNA more locally.

David Nicholson, founder and managing director at Living DNA, comments:

When we think about family, most of us just think about our close relatives. But despite how different we might seem on the surface, within our DNA lies the fact that we are all connected to one another. This project will bring to life how everyone is unique yet we are also part of one global family.

You can download your Living DNA raw genetic data from the site and use it however you desire. They also take privacy and security seriously:

Peace of Mind: Living DNA has the highest level of data and personal information protection, will not sell your DNA or data and puts you in control of your genetic data and how it is used. We will not use your genetic data for any purpose without your prior consent, other than what is needed for your DNA ancestry test. If at any time you decide that you want your genetic data and DNA sample destroyed, Living DNA will respect your decision and comply. All digital information and DNA samples are stored securely. The company operates to multiple quality and security accreditation.

Living DNA uses the Orion DNA chip technology, and their process was developed with academic experts from places such as Oxford University, University College London, and Bristol University.

As with other services, you don’t just get a one-time result. As they improve their algorithms and precision, you’ll get free updates on your results with more detailed maps and descriptions of your ancestors’ origins. They call their product a “membership” because it keeps on giving.

If you want to try out Living DNA, they’re having a Holiday Gift Sale where you can get a kit for just $99 (normally $159).

As Living DNA‘s algorithms and collection of data evolves, they’ll be able to give more and more exact information about the paths of our ancestors and how we got to where we are today. I, for one, am excited to stay tuned and see what that information brings me.

Note: I received a membership to Living DNA for review purposes.

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