For today’s consumer, this isn’t really much of a story, although it may be someday.
Ancestry published an article in their blog this week announcing that they have begun testing on a new AncestryDNA chip.
Currently, Ancestry uses the standard Illumina chip also used by Family Tree DNA which also functions as the base chip for the 23andMe product as well. 23andMe has a chip customized for medical testing, and Ancestry is now following suit as well with their new chip, soon to go into production.
The Illumina chip today holds roughly 700,000 locations, or SNPs that can be reported. Ancestry’s download today provides customers with roughly 682,000 locations, as compared to 23andMe’s 577,000 and Family Tree DNA’s roughly 690,000.
However, Ancestry is trading in some 300,000 of those SNPs currently on the standard chip and replacing them with new SNPs optimized for medical and ethnicity testing in addition to replacing some “low performing” locations with alternate locations. They couldn’t provide a breakdown in terms of percentages of how many are for medical, ethnicity or other SNPs.
What Does This Change Mean For You?
Today, nothing at all, according to Ancestry.
I asked if Ancestry had tested their clients who have tested on the new chip against the same client’s results from the current, soon to be, old chip – and Ancestry said they showed exactly the same matches.
So, the chip is backwards compatible in that the new chip will still provide matches to the old chip.
The difference may come in the future when more people have tested on the new chip. Only time will tell if those people will receive more and better matching with other people that have tested on the new chip.
Ancestry indicated that if they feel their clients need to update their test at some point in the future, then they will put together a plan – but until then, if then, there’s nothing to worry about.
Should You Retest?
Obviously the bloggers group wondered about this. If you retest today, you’ll have to handle both tests separately in your account. There is currently no way to merge tests, so you’ll have an old one and a new one. There is no “best of both worlds.” There is no way to preserve stars or notes or anything you may have done to one account and transfer to a different account. About the only thing you could do is, in time, to compare to see if you continue to have the same matches on both chips as more people test on the new chip.
Why The Change?
Ancestry was very clear that the changes today are really for future development and will have no effect on current accounts or matching. They are evaluating their future position in the medical arena. With last June’s announcement of Ancestry Health, they have very clearly been sticking their toes in that water. They hired Dr. Cathy Petti last July as well, an MD functioning a Chief Health Officer.
I’m not sure if this means Ancestry will one day offer health services to clients, similar to 23andMe, or whether it means that the firms they are currently or want to sell the DNA data to want more health related information, or perhaps both. We will just have to wait and see. Clearly they wouldn’t even be discussing this publicly and laying groundwork if they weren’t planning to do something!
Will You Still Be Able to Download?
Yes, your autosomal data file will be downloadable, just like it is today.
Will You Still Be Able to Upload to Family Tree DNA and GedMatch?
That of course will depend on those vendors making the necessarily format changes. This would be similar to the different vendors’ files being compared to each other today. Comparing one vendor to another isn’t quite as good as comparing each vendor to its own files, but the matches are still good and it’s still a darned site better than nothing.
Both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch will need to see the new file formats first and have some time to work with them. We don’t know if quality of matching will be an issue given that nearly half of the SNPs are being replaced – but until we hear otherwise from either company, I’d presume that they will make every effort to accommodate the new file structure.
When Is The Change Being Made?
The new chips are arriving next week, but Ancestry will be running on dual platforms for a little while yet during the changeover. There really won’t be any external way to tell if your test was performed on a new (v2) or old (v1) chip – so if you want the new chip – wait just awhile to order to be sure the new chip is in full production first.
Ancestry’s change, to clients today, is superficial. Your matching will still function. You don’t need to retest, unless you are simply curious. If you do want to retest, wait a few weeks to be sure the new test is completely in production – and remember, you’ll be managing two kits separately, so everyone will be asking you about you and your twin that they match. I’m sure there will be a number of curious people who will test on both platforms.
These chip changes are for future development – and we’ll just have to wait for the future to see what those new developments might be.