These Startups Help You Explore Your Ancestry


Know your roots.

For some, knowing exactly where you come from can form a large part of your identity. But whether you want to explore your ethnicity, learn more about your DNA makeup, or are just dying to know if you’re a descendent of a royal, researching your ancestry has never been easier – or quicker. In an increasingly competitive field, these are the standout startups disrupting the genetics-testing industry:

1. 23andMe

Do you want to know how much DNA you share with a Neanderthal? 23andMe – a direct-to-consumer DNA testing service – provides users with information surrounding their family history through their Ancestry Composition report. The personal genome service can tell you which regions your genes most closely align with, a genetic population that shares a common ancestor, as well as a person’s Neanderthal ancestry.

With the added potential to reveal hidden risks in your DNA, 23andMe isn’t just about delving into your past. A Health and Ancestry package means that after having your saliva analysed by the genotyping technology, users receive a report detailing their risk factors for a range of 10 different diseases and conditions, including Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. However, industry roadblocks mean that this particular feature is still pending government approval for use in Australia.

2. MyHeritage

Gilad Japhet founded MyHeritage from his living room in Israel when, frustrated with the below-par services on offer, he began coding his own genealogy software while tracing his family history. Fast-forward 15 years and MyHeritage is widely considered one of the leaders in the genetic testing and ancestry mapping industry.

With a list of key features to rival  – including Face Recognition technology (after uploading a picture, the tool scans their database for any potential matches) and Global Name Translation (it allows users to search for a relative’s name in their preferred language while still obtaining results in 40+ other languages) – the company launched MyHeritage DNA in 2016 in order to allow users to explore their ethnicity.

But as the results are unable to determine specific ancestral details about individuals, the DNA test doesn’t take all the homework out of tracing your family tree. However, when used alongside one another, the (free) Family Tree Builder tool and the DNA test are able to paint a fairly accurate picture of where you come from.

3. Helix  

Just 15 years ago, DNA sequencing would have set you back a staggering US$100 million. Today, it’s a comparatively affordable few thousand dollars. So what exactly is DNA sequencing – and why do we need it?

It’s the process of determining the order of our DNA building blocks in our genetic code, which – on a very basic level – will tell us what’s in our DNA. Although Helix is yet another player in the genetic testing market, it’s one of just a few companies to conduct exome testing, which results in 50-100 more data than genotyping (which is how 23andMe and trace your genetic makeup).

All this extra data means that as well as finding out where your ancestors came from over 500-10,000 years ago, you can learn more about your health and wellness through a variety of partner products. Heck, it can even offer you wine customised to your DNA. What’s more, Helix – a startup backed by DNA sequencing powerhouse Illumina – will securely store your saliva (gross) so that you can benefit from any further advances in genotyping technology without having to spit into another tube. Hurrah!

4. Living DNA

Launched in 2016 from a remote village in Somerset, UK, Living DNA promises to offer customers “twice the detail of other ancestry tests.” The edge in an already crowded market, says founder David Nicholson – who also owns the British biotech’s parent company DNA Worldwide – is that the results are easier to deduce (and more specific) than their competitors.

Through its custom-built Living DNA Orion Chip (developed with the help of Illumina), a DNA cheek swab can narrow down a customer’s ancestry to 80 different worldwide regions, including 21 regions within the UK alone – the result of two years’ worth of research alongside more than 100 geneticists.

While a one-off purchase of a swab test will entitle you to a lifetime’s access to your results (most of their competitors will provide access for as long as your subscription), you can even have your results immortalised in a book as a memento for an additional fee.

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