The Mysteries in Our Genes

by Laura

One of the more recent DNA sites is DNA.Land.  This is the public face of the scientists at the New York Genome Center and Columbia University. Made up of Dr Yaniv Erlich, Dr Joe Pickrell, and Assaf Gordon, “DNA Land is a place where you can learn more about your genome while enabling scientists to make new genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity. Our goal is to help members to interpret their data and to enable their contribution to research.” A worthy goal, indeed. I know that one of the research goals has to do with breast cancer. So it is worthwhile to upload your raw DNA from wherever you’ve tested, just to aid in the research on that.

I originally uploaded my DNA to DNA.Land last year, and was disappointed in the “matches” I originally received as well as the ethnicity results. I let my account wallow there, slowly withering on the vine, and a month or two ago, deleted it. Just this weekend, I decided to try again, as I had read they were adding more features, and had tweaked some of their algorithms. I could also contribute some additional “hard data” about myself that I didn’t have last year. That, and with a much larger database, and the fact that Ancestry had also tweaked their algorithms in the last year, might mean more and better info this time around.

Well, today, I finally got around to checking out my “results”. And more and better info is indeed what I got. The “Ancestry Report” is much more accurate than last time. It even picked up on the Orkney Island in my background. Cool. As there is little ambiguity in my ethnicity, since I have a pretty solid genealogy going back 5 generations on both sides, I’m pretty confident I’m solidly in the Irish/Scottish family of folk. My mitochondrial DNA test, which goes back thousands of years, concurs with this; tracing back through the Celts to the Vikings. DNA.Land reflects this. In spades. So that’s a plus.

For the “Find Relatives” report, I have one match. And this is one I already knew about. Which is good, as I can verify the match in a couple of other ways. Before, I had about 5-8 matches, each one progressively more obscure, and none of them fit into my family tree. At all. Not even a little bit. So, that’s a plus. Of course, DNA.Land only has about 30,000+ folk in their database…so matches are going to be slim for a while. But that’s okay. I’d rather have one real match, than 10 not-so-real matches.

But then there’s their “Trait Prediction Report”. For me, this was kind of a fail. It’s very small, especially compared to Promethease, and it’s very rudimentary. It’s obviously in beta mode, as well, as they accompany each of the traits with a multiple question survey, which I am assuming helps check and balance their accuracy.

For me, they only got one thing right. Maybe two.

DNA.Land predicted me as drinking an average of 2.7 cups of coffee a day. Their confidence level of predicting this from my SNPs is listed as “Preliminary”. They explain this:  “This shows up to 30 of the top SNPs that contribute the largest effects to your score. The magnitude of each bar indicates the deviation from the average effect within your ancestry group.”  Um…yeah.  I don’t drink coffee at all. Never have; hate the stuff. I cannot get past the overwhelming bitterness, regardless of how little coffee and how much chocolate, cream, sprinkles, and frou-frou my Daughter-Barristas used to concoct for me.  So, fail on that.

They predicted me as having attended 13.9 years of school. Okay. But not so much, and I am actually attending a certificate program in theology (hard to explain…it’s through my diocese) now. Again, preliminary confidence on this one, as well. In actual fact, I’ve attended more like 19 years of school. Maybe I over-achieve for my genes.

DNA.Land predicted with “Good” confidence that I have blue eyes. Well…maybe. I have eyes that look green, because I have an orange-y gold halo that radiates out from my iris which is a grey-blue. I also have a grey rim around my eye. The effect is to look like I have green eyes. There’s a name for this (which I forget) and it has to do with broken melanin deposits or some such thing. So not quite blue eyes, but on the blue spectrum, I suppose.

Then they got one right! They have fair confidence that I am “shorter than average”. Yep! Indeed I am! Yippe-ai-kai-ay. In fact, compared to my sibs, I am the runt and barely come up to their shoulders.

DNA-Land then speculates I have average eyesight. Ok. If you take my one nearsighted eye and combine it with my other farsighted eye, I suppose it’s average. I only wear one contact lens, since my eyes are naturally wired to do this. Then I can see better to drive.

All-in-all, I find this stuff fascinating. But Promethease seems to have a better record. They guessed my correct blood type, among hundreds of other things; one I only discovered three years ago.

Of course, the major disclaimer is that this isn’t medical dogma. It’s for entertainment and personal info. Don’t diagnose yourself with this information. And, indeed, I would agree! More, much more, research seems to be necessary here. But, in the meantime, if you’re curious, give it a go. It’s free and easy to do assuming you’ve done the first part, and tested at Ancestry, FTDNA, or 23 and Me.