Genetic Ancestry Testing – Understanding Genetic Ancestry Testing

Although the science of genetic ancestry testing has its roots in the area of crime scene investigation, advances in dna testing for ancestry have made it possible to find out the identity of that long lost ancestor you've been so diligently seeking. Although genetic ancestry testing hasn't evolved to the point where a simple test can reveal your entire genealogy, it has become increasingly popular, and proved reliable, as a genealogical tool. In this article we'll provide a basic overview of how DNA testing works, and how to make use of the results returned from genetic ancestry testing.

The Basics of Genetic Ancestry Testing

Genetic ancestry testing involves the sampling and analysis of a person’s DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid. It already sounds complicated I know, but there is an analogy that helps to make understanding molecular genealogy a little easier. Initially published by the National Genome Research Institution, it compares the components of genetic ancestry testing to a library and its contents.  That already sounds better I’m sure, and since most people have visited a library and are familiar with its contents, this is quite a useful comparison. If you’ve never been to a library you can still understand the analogy, as the explanation is simple and clear, and in effect; self explanatory. It helps if we describe the components of genetic ancestry testing individually, and then tie them together. The most important terms to understand regarding genetic ancestry testing are highlighted in bold text.

Your own "Library" of Genetic Ancestry Testing

The basic building blocks of our bodies are Cells, and each of these can be imagined as a city within the “continent” – your body. Each individual cell contains its own system for producing energy, transporting waste and nutrients, communicating with surrounding cells, and carrying out other cellular functions. Each cell also contains its own central information system – a nucleus - which can be compared to a library within the city.

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As a library contains reference books, a nucleus contains deoxyribonucleic acid, better known as DNA. As books are written with 26 characters – our alphabet – DNA has only 4 letters in its alphabet – A, which stands for adenine, G for guanine, C for cytosine, and T for thymine. These “characters” of the genetic ancestry testing “alphabet” are known as nucleotide bases, and are used to “spell out” the description of a person’s DNA, which would look something like this if written: AAGGGGTTTCC

Within each book lies a series of chapters devoted to different subjects. Inside of DNA are Genes and they can be compared to the chapters within the “book” of DNA. Each gene contains specific instructions in the form of coded sequences, and these are used to govern various functions and protein formation.

Now, within each library (cell nucleus) there are a variety of reference books, and likewise each cell contains a total of 23 pairs of reference books or Chromosomes. The chromosomes are numbered according to size – 1 being the largest, and 22 being the smallest. The chromosome size is measured by the number of nucleotide bases it contains – various amounts of adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine, and each can hold anywhere from 50 to 263 million bases. The X and Y chromosomes are the main subjects of genetic ancestry testing.

The entire collection of library books can be likened to a Genome. Within a cell, this is the complete set of instructions contained in the nucleus. It is the programming for the cell on which its complete functionality depends. To summarize; the human genome contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, particular sections of which are genes, which contain specific instructions for our cells. These instructions determine whether our eyes are blue or brown, which parent we resemble, even which disease we may be liable to.

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Hopefully this analogy will help you to understand the basic components of genetic ancestry testing. For a full, detailed explanation you can visit the National Genome Research Institution Website. It is important to understand the terminology used in genetic ancestry testing if you are considering a DNA test, otherwise you won’t know how to interpret the results. Genetic ancestry testing can be an extremely valuable genealogical tool, so try to grasp an understanding of it as much as possible in order to increase the chances of locating those evasive ancestors.

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