Genetic Ancestry Tracing : What Makes it Popular Among Americans

In a world that is now forward thinking, what makes the concept of genetic ancestry tracing, popular, especially among Americans? Even 2020 presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren had her ancestral genealogy traced, to support her claim that some roots in her family tree came from Native American ancestors.

How the information gave her political advantage or disadvantage is another story; with Trump calling her Pocahontas and a prominent leader of the Cherokee Nation saying that the results of genetic testing do not reflect genuine affiliation with a tribe.

In an interview by Live Science, Beverly I. Strassmann, a professor of Anthropology and Faculty Associate at the Institute for Social Research of the University of Michigan, said that genealogy has become the second-most popular hobby in America. She explained that the deep-rooted interest in ancestry-tracing is in part influenced by evolutionary forces, which stem from how humans care for family members because of shared genes.

Individuals who feel closer to their family because of genetic ties are more likely to participate in helping out and in increasing the survival odds of one’s own genes. It is a phenomenon that Professor Strassman refers to as “kin selection.” She further explained that in helping relatives, and not necessarily limiting the scope to offsprings, people can forward their lineage through genetic fitness.

A Cursory Look at the Concept of Genetic Testing

An article from the National Institute of Health (NIH) defines and explains the concept of genetic ancestry testing, which is also referred to as genetic genealogy. It is a method that examines DNA variations, to which the analyses involve looking for clues pertaining to where a subject’s ancestors came from and about the connections between families.

What is DNA

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the self-replicating material mainly constituting the threadlike chromosomes forming the nucleus of every living cell; posing as carriers of genetic information.

In genetic ancestry testing, patterns of DNA variations are compared, to which the greater the patterns of DNA variations shared by families or even by populations, the closer the genealogical relationship between individuals and families under study.

According to the NIH article, there are three types of genetic ancestry testing used for genealogy:

The Y Chromosome Testing

This method analyzes the variations of the Y chromosome exclusively passed on by a father to a son. It is used in exploring ancestry in the direct male line. Take note that only males have Y chromosomes; but women can harness this type of genetic testing by having a male family member DNA tested.

The Mitochondrial DNA Testing

In this type of genetic testing, cell structures known as mitochondria that contain a small amount of DNA, are used in identifying genetic variations. This type of testing can be used by either sex, since both male and female offsprings receive mitochondrial DNA.from their mothers.

The Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Testing

These types of tests analyze large numbers of DNA variations referred to as “single nucleotide polymorphisms” found across a person’s specific genome or the total set of DNA variations for a specific species. The results of these genetic testing methods are then compared with the results of others who have taken the tests, to establish an estimated percentage of a person’s ethnicity.