More Changes to 23andMe’s DNA Test

DNA Strand

Back in October there were a flurry of reports and blog postings about 23andMe’s announcment that their revised medical testing plan was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).  At that time the company also announced a schedule for their revamp of the website – including the genealogical component of their tests.  For those of us who use their test to hunt for ancestors there is ‘good news’ and ‘bad news’.   More of the latter, unfortunately.

Most of us who looked seriously at the 23andMe product suspected that genetic genealogy was not their main focus – it was the medical data from the extra, genetically active SNPs that they alone test.  As Judy Russell (The Legal Genealogist) has written in her blog:

“…it’s been crystal clear, from the very start, that the focus of 23andMe was never on genetic genealogy, but rather on health information.”

The most obvious place where this impacted users was their terrible mechanism for internal communication between matches – reporting, contacting and sharing data was a nightmare.  This was clearly driven by their (appropriate) concerns about sensitive medical data being mishandled.  But it was a huge hassle for those of us who just wanted to identify & contact our ‘cousins.’  I have very close matches who haven’t responded to me on 23andMe’s system and I can’t reach them by email to see if any of them might wish to share data & family trees.

This actually is the one thing that may improve with the new system because, in the future, you either choose to ‘share’ or you choose to remain ‘anonymous’.  If you pick the former you will show up in ‘DNA Relatives’ – their matching system – and you can communicate directly with your matches.  You can also quickly agree to exchange your DNA results (the default at FamilyTreeDNA) rather than being forced to use their idiotic “Introduction” system as in the past.

What has gotten worse?

The PRICE !!  It doubled from $99 to $199.  This means you will likely see a DRASTIC reduction in new matches showing up – since FamilyTreeDNA & AncestryDNA remain at $99.

And…some of their tools will also disappear.  In their press releases they identify the following:

  • DNA Melodies (useless gimmic)
  • Global Similariy Map (global map showing your ancestral DNA vs all others)
  • Haplogroup Tree Mutation Mapper (how Y & mtDNA SNPs determine haplogroup)
  • Family Inheritance Genome View (broad-based view of 2 indiv’s genome)
  • Inheritance Calculator (simplistic comparison of 2 indiv’s DNA to see child’s traits )
  • ABO Blood Risk (blood type genetics)
  • Reynolds Risk (10 yr risk of heart attack)

The only one of these that I found useful was the Mutation Mapper – so we haven’t lost much there.

Although you will likely lose hundreds of ‘matches’ when folks don’t explicitly join ‘DNA Relatives’ they have bumped the limit for the total number of matches from 1000 to 2000.  And those matches who show up in DNA Relatives will probably be much more interested in working together to find that ‘common ancestor.’

Their new interface will become operational over the next several weeks.  As of last night I was still able to see my matches in the old format and see my ‘Ancestral Composition’ charts.  I could not ‘Invite’ anyone to share with me (at this moment) and all of my pending ‘Invitations’ appear to be deleted.  Neither is a killer  –  if those potential invites join ‘DNA Relatives’ so they can share.  If they don’t, I’ll never be able to contact them in the future.

Now, to be fair, I guess this is 23andMe’s choice to make.  It is a business decision.  They must feel that the prices increase won’t dissuade their primary audience from testing and they must have decided that they don’t need to worry about the opinions of those who only test for genealogical purposes. But for those of us who used their service it will definitely reduce the value of our results, going forward.

So, the future…

We’ll have to see what their new interface offers – come January.  Either way, the genetic genealogy community that advocated so loudly for 23andMe has definitely been burned by 23andMe.

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