The Big Y Test Increases Again to Big Y-700

In Japan, at the Tanabata or Star Festival, attendees write their wishes on tanzaku, or small ribbon-like colorful pieces of paper and hang them on the tanzaku bamboo tree. For a very long time, Y DNA project administrators pestered Bennett Greenspan at Family Tree DNA to add more STR markers, useful in determining relationships between and within family lines.

We’ve been getting our wishes granted at breakneck speed in this past year, with the addition of the Big Y-500 (that’s 500 free STR markers) in April 2018. Now, our wishes have been granted again as Family Tree DNA expands the Big Y to 700 included STR markers.

Big Y-700 Tanzaku tree.png

Family Tree DNA just announced the Big Y-700 which replaces the Big Y-500.

The Big Y test itself provides a scan of the majority of the Y chromosome, providing results to testers including:

  • All SNPs found, both ancestral (original value) and derived (mutated state)
  • New mutations never discovered before known as Private Variants. It’s exciting to be a part of scientific discovery AND these are useful genealogically as well. I wrote about using the Estes Big Y results here.
  • Reports for named SNPs and private variants, both
  • Matching for SNPs
  • SNP tree placement
  • The new Block Tree
  • First 500, now 700 STR values included for free. You can read about how these markers work, here.
  • Matching to other testers for both SNPs and STRs above 111 (STRs below 111 are handled separately). I wrote about how the new matching above 111 markers works here. You can read about the difference between STRs and SNPs here.

According to this announcement, testers whose Big Y-500 results are now pending will automatically receive the new Big Y-700 instead of the Big Y-500 that they ordered. Family Tree DNA added another 200 STR markers. No need to do anything on your part.

This is great news for everyone who ordered on or after November 1, 2018 or anyone who has not yet received Big Y results. For the first time in history, no one will bemoan delayed results!

Family Tree DNA provided the following schedule of when Big Y-700 results can be expected – some very soon!

Order Placed Results Expected By
Before November 1, 2018 February 8, 2019
November 2018 February 20, 2019
December 1, 2018 to present March 6, 2019

It looks like another benefit of the new genetic testing technology will be quicker delivery dates now and into the future. Family Tree DNA hopes to reduce their delivery time on the Big Y-700 after the current backlog is released to 2-4 weeks.

How Did They Squeeze Another 200 Markers Out?

New chemistry used in processing the Big Y-700 test results in more uniform coverage of the Y chromosome and includes a much broader target region. This combination does three things:

  • Allows quality reads of regions previously unavailable
  • Provides more consistent results
  • Provides better coverage, meaning fewer no-reads
  • Allows for more STRs to be accessed and reliably read, hence the Big Y-500 is replaced by the Big Y-700

Price

The Big Y-700 prices, according to the Family Tree DNA e-mail to group administrators:

Big Y-700 pricing.png

Upgrades

Since the new Big Y-700 test provides an additional 200 markers above and beyond the Big Y-500, many people will want to know if upgrades are available. The answer is yes, they will be but not just yet and the upgrade price has not been announced. Expect an e-mail with this information around mid-March if you have already taken a Big Y or Big Y-500 test.

Because the new chemistry is needed to obtain the Big Y-700 results, this isn’t just reprocessing the existing data. Therefore, a new test actually has to be run in the lab on the sample to facilitate the Big Y-700 upgrade from the Big Y-500.

Obviously, if not enough of the original sample remains, this could be a problematic situation. I would suggest thinking conservatively about upgrading a Big Y-500 test where the tester can’t provide a new sample for testing. Every situation will be different.

Will My Big Y-500 Markers Change?

If you upgrade to the Big Y-700, your STR markers values above 111 may change due to the improved quality of the technology involved.

This means three things:

  • You may not match people you did before, or vice versa, on some markers
  • You may have results for markers you did not have results for before
  • Your matches to people who have also taken the Big Y-700 test will likely be more accurate than to people who took a Big Y-500 test. Apples to apples, so to speak.

What If My Results Change and I Want to Keep the Old Results?

You won’t be able to mix and match at will between the results of the Big Y-500 and Big Y-700 tests. No merging or combining results of the two tests allowed!

I asked about the situation where a tester has results for a specific marker in the Big Y-500, but that location is a no-call using the new Big Y-700 technology. Family Tree DNA replied that they did not anticipate this being an issue. I hope they are right.

I also asked about the situation where a marker value changes to NOT match men who have taken the Big Y-500 of the same surname. Would the person who took the Big Y-700 be able to “revert” to the older value (in other words, merge values for the two tests) for that conflicting marker? The answer is no, that the Big Y-700 technology is superior and more accurate. Remember that matching, meaning who is on your match list, is actually determined by the first 111 STR markers, not the additional STR markers provided by the Big Y-500 or Big Y-700, so markers above 111 will not affect who you do and don’t see on your match list.

The long-term answer is of course to upgrade the other men to Big Y-700 as well. In cases where that isn’t possible, project administrators and family members comparing these results for ancestral line marker mutations will simply have to make a note of any discrepancy.

If you do upgrade once the Big Y-700 upgrade becomes available, I would recommend printing or otherwise storing a copy of your Big Y-500 results for reference.

New Match Comparison Tools Planned

While the Big Y-500 (and soon 700) results are compared on an individual tester’s results page, there is currently no tool to allow administrators to compare groups of men, which is often how surname project grouping is achieved. This also means that results above 111 markers aren’t available on the pubic project pages.

While you may not have noticed if you’re just looking at your own results, project administrators need grouping tools in order to discern line marker mutations for specific lineages. The usefulness of Y DNA testing is, after all, in the comparison of the results to other men and forming clusters of men who match into genetic families. Every family group who is participating in Y DNA testing wants to discover markers that delineate between various male lines descending from a specific progenitor.

Let me give you a quick example. In my Campbell line, we’re still trying to discover the identity of the father of Charles Campbell, born about 1750. We know that he’s from the Campbell Clan line (Duke of Argyll) of Scotland based on his descendants’ Y DNA tests, but we can’t figure out which Campbell male he descends from (probably in Virginia) before he moved to Hawkins County, Tennessee about 1780. Hopefully, these new Y DNA STR markers may provide enough granularity, if a sufficient number of men upgrade, to help us track our line back in time. We need markers that are found only in Charles’s descendants and his father’s other descendants, whoever they might be, to connect us with the correct lineage. Hey, I’m a desperate genealogist – I’ll take every hint I can find! Fingers crossed.

Family Tree DNA indicates that new grouping tools for project administrators, and I presume that means project displays as well, are coming soon. I realize that scrolling to the right forever to see beyond 111 markers would be a pain, but I can’t think of a better way to facilitate comparisons of many men. If you have an idea, give me a shout. If you’d like to see a surname project example, here’s a link to the Estes project.

I look forward to the new FREE and included Big Y markers and upcoming tools. Thanks again Family Tree DNA!

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49 thoughts on “The Big Y Test Increases Again to Big Y-700

  1. Thank you for the informative write-up, Roberta.

    I have been trying to figure out, will BigY500 and BigY700 testers be able to match each other? That is, if a new relative comes in and takes the Y700 test, will he show as a match to my non-upgraded Y500 test? I think the answer should be “yes”, but I would like a definitive answer.

    • Yes. Only the first 111 markers are actually used for matching. The additional markers are reported, but not used in the matching algorithm.

      • Hmmm…. So my new relative matches my Y111, and the SNPs are used to give me a BigY500 match, as if they had taken that test? Is that correct?

        What I’m trying to figure out is, if I choose not to upgrade my Y500, are the last few years of matches a sunk cost that bring me no new benefit?

        • No, not at all, The 111 markers are still the 111 markers and are NOT connected to the Big Y. You must have those markers before you can take the Big Y. If you order the BIG Y without having taken the 111 marker test, the price includes the bundling of the 111 markers. The Big Y test itself gives you STR markers ABOVE 111 – in other words beginning with marker 112 and going up through 700+. The original 111 STR markers are the ones used for STR matching meaning the people who show on your match list at 37, 67, 111. Sorry if this wasn’t, or isn’t, clear.

      • I am a little confused. So the info that we get from the Big Y 700 is not used to match other men sharing my dna. Only the y-111 results are used to helps us find y-dna matches??

  2. Roberta,

    Thanks for this information. I always look forward to reading your blog and count you as one of the many blessings in my life! I am a bit confused here (easily done!) about the matching and hope you can clarify something for me. If the matching of the BigY500 is done on the first 111 markers, why does my brother have one match at the BigY level and none at the 111 marker level? Or am I missing something here?

    Mari

    • The STR matching is done on the first 111 markers. He matches on the SNP but not on the STRs. So his match is further back in time.

      • Okay, I got it now! Thanks. I appreciate all you do to educate us on this fascinating (and complex) subject!

  3. I do not remember getting any additional genealogical data from STRs 112 thru 500. What will up to 700 STRs do for me, genealogically?

    • It depends on who else has tested. My intention is to use the additional markers to attempt to define line marker mutations in the family groups I’m working with. If I were you, I’d hold tight for a bit.

  4. More of a “in the weeds” question as it appears you didn’t ask the question and may not have an answer. I understand STR testing uses a slightly different process than SNP testing so what benefits one test may have no impact on the other.

    However you did introduce “New chemistry used in processing the Big Y-700 test results in more uniform coverage of the Y chromosome and includes a much broader target region” into the mix.

    Does this possibly also mean the Y700 might be also be reading SNPs the Y500 and earlier couldn’t reliably get to?

  5. I was very interested to read in your blog (2nd para) that “We’ve been getting our wishes granted at breakneck speed in this past year, with the addition of the Big Y-500 (that’s 500 free STR markers) in April 2018.”

    I guess I am wondering how you came to the point of “that’s 500 “free” STR markers” in April 2018. Emphasis on “free”.

    I upgraded my father’s Y111 in Aug 2018 which was originally done in Nov 2015 to Big Y-500, and that definitely was not free. It cost be close to $ 500.00.

    In fact I upgraded 3x Y111 tests in Aug 2018 @ $A 472.31 each ($A 1416.93) plus I purchased a Big Y-500 outright which cost $A 635.81. A total outlay for me of over 2000 dollars.

    I am not seeing anything “free” Roberta, but perhaps I am seeing that more $$ will be expected to be outlayed, if one wants to upgrade yet again, to this new Big Y-700 test.

    • Everyone who took the Big Y test results received the STR markers for free in April. Originally this test did not include STRs. Hence the STR markers are a bonus and free. If you look at the link to the April article, the details are there.

  6. If there is not enough sample left from earlier tests will we be notified early on or will we have to wait until almost time for results to be posted before we’re notified?

    • FTDNA has been sending out new vials automatically when a Big Y is ordered now. If there isn’t enough to start, they won’t start and will wait until the vial is returned. If the person can’t provide another vial, then they will contact the e-mail on the account. If the person can’t give a new sample and the test fails, then of course you’ll have to wait until they know that.

        • If the new vial cannot be returned for whatever reason and the test fails for lack of enough sample will FTDNA refund the money?

          • If there isn’t enough sample, they won’t start the test if it fails and there isn’t enough sample to rerun, no, there’s no refund. You should inquire about the kit you’re considering upgrading. They can give you a much better idea about your specific situation.

          • Thank you. That’s a good suggestion. I’m concerned about this particular kit because I’ve had several upgrades and snp tests done and my cousin isn’t available to submit another vile.

  7. I’m 68 % African American and 28% European. I believe Big Y will be of limited usefulness for me owing to discontinuity of surnames for AA. My Euro component relies on cooperative matches for their trees and DNA data. Some have cooperated while others haven’t. I have gotten some insight and likely Euro progenitors from cooperating matches, but overall I believe Big Y is likely to be of little use for me. I would appreciate your comments.

    • Assuming your Y is not African, Y DNA testing is one of the best ways to identify the lineage. Maybe not the Big Y, but certainly through 111 markers. The Big Y could sort your line for you if you match multiple men of the same surnames, some of which have also taken the Big Y.

  8. Okay, I thought had this right. But maybe I’m getting confused. BigY tested SNPs, (single nucleotide polymorphisms) which I understood are entirely different from STRs (short tandem repeats). Now we have BigY-700 or the previous BigY-500 testing more SNPs or more STRs? Or both? And my apologies for the confusion; it must be the cold weather 🙂

    • Both. The technology has improved so more SNPs can be found, in part because the scans can read in areas not before able to be read reliably. This ALSO allows them to add more STR markers too. You’re not the only one confused. I must not have explained this well.

  9. So their lack of the proper testing chemicals in the past is suppose to cost us that tested in the past more money to be able to match the people that are testing now. To me that is a rip-off and a half.

    • Technology has improved. Just like vehicles have improved. This technology didn’t even exist at all 20 years ago.

          • Isn’t the Illumina array a SNP genotyping platform rather than a targeted NGS method?

            I assume the improved chemistry comes from the Illumina sequencing step. Has the read length changed?

            “Provides better coverage, meaning fewer no-reads” Where can I find out what this means?
            Has the target enrichment improved? By what parameter?

  10. My brother has tested Y-37 and Big Y. I’m trying to figure out whether we would benefit from getting the STRs 38-111… not being a Y expert, I don’t know what to think. In the past, people counseled not to bother.

    • It depends. Does he have matches at 37. Do you need more granularity to break matches into groups? If yes, upgrade. If no, don’t.

  11. Two levels: For sorting the results try the old fashioned dot-in-the-box, this is to find initial pattern groupings; then for tier two sub-sorting use some form of Collins-Leeds. I don’t think it can be a ‘one sort does all’ since one person will have more than one item. So there will probably be two charts, unless the spreadsheet can be formulized somehow or use Access where I hear multi-level datasets can exist and be sorted.

  12. I’m disappointed FTDNA will not retest BigY500 tests ordered before Nov 2018. I’ve already spent hundreds of dollars for my brother’s Y testing and won’t be ordering the BigY700.

  13. Hello Roberta, just wondering how the technical specifications (coverage length, reads etc) of the Big Y700 compare to FGC’s Y Elite Test?

  14. Thank you for such an informative article. This may be a really obvious answer, but before I shell out for the test I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any blind spots. I have my kit and my fathers kit already processed at FTDNA, is it better for me to upgrade my fathers kit to the Big y-700 test instead of my own? I’ve hit a brick wall with researching his side of our tree, whereas on my mother’s side I can trace back much further. What are the downsides of not testing my own kit instead of his?

    • For genealogy, there aren’t any down sides for the Y. There’s a slight possibility that you have a mutation that he doesn’t. But that won’t help you with genealogy.

  15. Hi Roberta,

    You are providing a great resource here. It is really appreciated – thank you.

    I am hoping you can answer a question for me. I consider(ed!) myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around Y-DNA matches. I took the Y-DNA test (up to 111 Markers) at FamilyTreeDNA.

    At 111 markers, I match (only) a Dunlap surname.
    At 67, I match (only) that same Dunlap, as well as another Dunlap.
    At 37, I match (only) the same two Dunlaps as above, as well as a Morris.
    At 25, I match 528 people, including the same Dunlap that matched me at 111, 67, 37, and 25.
    At 12, I match 3455 people, include the same two Dunlaps as above, as as well as a new Dunlap, and two Dunlops.

    My question: what does this mean? My surname is not Dunlap or Dunlop, or even close. No Dunlap or Dunlop appears on my 1600-people family tree. If Y-DNA means that we share a common ancestor (one man) on my father’s line, does this mean that that ancestor had a Dunlap surname that changed to my surname (or vice versa) hundreds of years ago? Does it also mean that those men that matched me at 12 and 25 also share that same common ancestor? What is the relevance (I.e. how can I use this information in my family history research) of this Dunlap/Dunlop connection?

    Sorry I’m so confused – I thought this test would reveal matches to only people with my surname. Any help would be appreciated!

    • You can match people whose DNA you match of any surname. I would be glad to take a look at your DNA results. I created Quick Consults for just this type of situation which gives you up to an hour of my focused time. If you would like to order a Quick Consult, just click on the “Store” tab at the top of the blog page.

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  17. Hello, I know my Y-chromosome haplogroup already. (QM3). What more can the Big Y 700 test add on to what I already know. And if it does add on something is there an example.

    • Yes, you will receive a much more refined haplogroup. You’ll know which branch you are on and who you match on that branch. You’ll also receive the additional STR markers.

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