New Living DNA test "pinpoints British ancestry"

By Jon Bauckham, 11 October 2016 - 9:33am

Using the latest genetic testing technology, the newly launched Living DNA service can reveal a person’s ancestral connections to 80 worldwide regions – including 21 within the British Isles

Living DNA iPad
The Living DNA test has been developed in partnership with more than 100 genetics experts (Credit: Living DNA)

A new consumer DNA test claiming to be able to pinpoint a person’s ancestry to specific regions of the UK has gone on sale.

Developed in partnership with more than 100 genetics experts, Living DNA draws on findings from the People of the British Isles project (PoBI), which saw the publication of the first fine-scale ‘genetic map’ of the nation in 2015.

Using a vast database of results collected from the study, the test compares a person’s genetic markers with those commonly found within 21 distinct areas of the UK, such as Cornwall, Norfolk and North Wales.

The findings are then made available to view via an online platform, which also has the ability to identify connections to a further 59 worldwide regions.

However, rather than just displaying percentage breakdowns, the Living DNA website offers a map showing how far back each component of genetic material comes from. As a result, genealogists may be able to verify findings from their paper-based research.

University of Bristol academic Dr Dan Lawson, who co-wrote the PoBI study and helped develop the Living DNA software, suggested that the service was a “whole new approach to DNA ancestry testing”.

“No other method – either in scientific literature or in the field of personal genomics – can identify the ancestry of a single person to the level of regions within the UK,” he said.

Dr Dan Lawson, who co-authored the People of the British Isles study, helped develop the Living DNA software (Credit: Living DNA)

The Living DNA test currently costs £120, which includes return delivery of a cheek swab kit for submitting the DNA sample itself, along with “lifetime” access to the results on the web.

Thanks to a specially designed chip that is used in the testing process, the Living DNA service not only provides an autosomal picture of a person’s heritage, but also incorporates Y-DNA (paternal line) and mtDNA (maternal line) analysis. On rival services such as Family Tree DNA, these three types of tests have to be ordered separately.

Although Living DNA does not yet offer users the chance to connect with potential relatives online, the company’s managing director, David Nicholson, confirmed that it was a feature that would be enabled in the future – both internally through the website and via partnerships.

“Our view is that you own your DNA, so we will be letting users download their results and put it into different systems,” he told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

“We’re also looking to work with partners so you can quickly transfer it over into other databases without having to be a technical genius.”

Debbie Kennett, honorary research associate at University College London and author of DNA and Social Networking, said the launch of Living DNA was an “exciting” development in consumer genomics.

“Access to the PoBI dataset is what we’ve all been waiting for and I’m sure that everyone is going to be keen to see how their results compare,” she said.

“This is a very welcome addition to the genetic ancestry marketplace, and I look forward to seeing some interesting new developments in the future.”

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