Ethnic Dna Testing

Curiosity often abounds when it comes to our family origins. While those who have been adopted may be wondering about their biological families, others may be interested in learning more about their ancestors from past centuries. For others, learning more about their ethnic roots may be the goal of DNA testing.

How Ethnic DNA Testing Works

The procedure for ethnic DNA testing is a relatively simple one from your end. After contacting a company that specializes in DNA testing, you submit a DNA sample by rubbing a cotton swab on the inside of your cheek and sending it to the laboratory for analysis. Some companies provide gum or mouthwash instead of swabs.

Most ancestry DNA testing companies test either Y-chromosomes or mitochondria for information on your family. However, ethnic DNA testing is not the same as ancestry DNA testing. Ethnic DNA testing examines different genetic information, referred to as autosomal DNA testing. During this type of DNA analysis, the lab looks at your chromosomes to help determine what percent of your genetic makeup comes from various ethnic groups.

Some companies claim to be able to pinpoint probable ancestry to nationalities as specific as Northeastern Amerindian (the native population of the Northeast United States) or Basque (the Basque-speaking people from Western Europe).

Other companies specialize in a Native American DNA test, which can be done using Y-line, mitochondrial or autosomal DNA testing. Regardless of the results, most tribes dont consider a DNA test proper qualification for admittance. Instead, they rely upon paper records, such as treaties and reservation relocation documents. Some people have tried to use their DNA test results to gain membership in tribes in spite of this, but it hasnt proved to be a successful gambit so far.

The Limitations of Ethnic DNA Testing

Its important to realize that even the most enthusiastic information from companies that provide ethnic DNA testing only claims to deliver percentages of likelihood for your family history. In other words, the results are based on probable matches to specific ethnic groups, rather than absolutely positive matches.

The way the testing company determines these probable matches is by comparing your DNA to different populations globally. Then, they see which populations have the largest amount of DNA profiles similar to your own. Because this is a relatively new technology, it will probably become more accurate as time goes on and more and more DNA profiles are analyzed and collected.

In general, ethnic (autosomal) DNA testing has an error rate as high as 15 percent when it comes to yielding probabilities. For instance, sometimes the test confuses some ethnic groups for others.

Keep in mind also that ethnic DNA testing isnt useful for determining the likelihood of developing a genetic disorder. If you are concerned about which conditions you are more or less likely to develop as a result of your ethnic makeup, consult your doctor for a specific, in-depth physical.

How to Test Your DNA

If you decide an ethnic DNA test is worth pursuing, several companies offer accurate, discrete testing services. Some basic research can help you determine which company best suits your needs. If you are specifically interested in autosomal DNA testing, be sure to choose a company that specializes in this sort of ethnic DNA testing.

Once you select a company, a test package can run from just over $100 to nearly $1000, depending on the amount of detail you want the testing to reveal and which company you choose. Once the laboratory receives your package, you might have to wait a while to get results. While some companies will mail you a printed report, others allow you to check your results and/or lab progress online.

To date, ethnic DNA testing is more of a curiosity than a scientific tool. However, as the science continues to develop, this type of DNA testing will likely become a valuable way of determining ethnic origins.


Genebase Systems (2007). Get Your Participation Kit. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from the Genebase Web site.

Genebase Systems (2007). Trace Your Ancestry. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from the Genebase Web site.