The Future of Genetic Genealogy

I have to admit, during the past few months I’ve worried about future of those companies offering genetic genealogy testing (there are at least 31; see the sidebar). I know it’s a funny thing to worry about, but I guess I’m just trying to figure out what the future holds for this type of testing.

My biggest concern, of course, is that whole-genome sequencing will signal the end of many of these companies, at least the ones who do not offer whole-genome sequencing. (By the way, are you sick of hearing about genomic sequencing yet? Lately I feel like I should change the name of the blog to “The Genomic Genealogist” or something like that!). Some might ask, for instance, why one should bother ordering multiple tests once whole-genome sequencing is affordable. And it’s a great question, because we are getting sooo close to that goal!

Yesterday, however, I read an article at Forbes called “Genealogy Gets Genetic.” The first half of the article talks about two companies, African Ancestry and DNA Heritage. African Ancestry’s business is growing by 25% per year, while DNA Heritage reports that its customer base is increasing by 50% every year. The second half of the article discusses AncestryByDNA, which offers autosomal testing. According to the article, a new test soon to by offered by AncestryByDNA will pinpoint the exact makeup of one’s DNA origins in specific regions of Europe and will cost more than $600.

For me, the most interesting part of the article came from Alastair Greenshields, the president of DNA Heritage.

“Greenshields says customers also appreciate a genealogy test that doesn’t reveal too much about an individual’s medical profile. Some DNA tests have also focused on the small portion of DNA that offers clients answers about their risk of cancer or other diseases. But his company performs maternal and paternal tests on the 95% of the genetic code that makes no predictions about a person’s health or appearance, leaving customers blissfully ignorant of their genetic prognosis while providing valuable information about their heritage.”

This type of advertising is really quite brilliant. There will always be people who are interested in genealogy but have no interest in revealing their entire genome to anyone, just as there will always be people who are ready to know what their genome holds. Although I’ve been doubtful in the past, I now believe that there will be a market for both types of testing. There will be companies that sequence the entire genome, and there will be companies that only perform limited sequencing for those that are concerned about the ramifications of whole-genome sequencing (are there are indeed ramifications).

Whew. One less thing to keep me up at night.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007