Can Your DNA Really Reveal Your Hidden Ancestry? #IsThisReal


I used to work at this historic
site during the summer, in college. It was my favorite job– OK, one of my favorite jobs. This job’s pretty great. And every year, people would
visit from all over the world. I fired the cannon. I learned to clean
and fire rifles that were from the 1870s. I learned to blacksmith
and play the fife. Actually, I think we
have a clip of that. [PLAYING FIFE] Whoa– fingers, really fast. But something that stood out to
young Tracy was this one day, we were talking out in the
Fort, and these German tourists overheard us. And they started to talk
to us about their ancestry. And they were German. Their grandparents were German. Their great-grandparents
were German. Their great-great-grandparents
were German. Everything was
German, all the way back, German all the
way down, if you will. And when you’re talking
about where you’re from, even though it doesn’t feel
like it, in many cases, we are a melting pot. And because of this,
a lot of people want to know their
family history. It’s tied to identity
and sense of self. Should I celebrate St.
Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Carnival, Oktoberfest? Where am I really
from, like really? Ha! Even though sometimes the
question is offensive, where are you from
really does speak to a lot of our sense of self. And DNA tests do offer
a promise of accuracy. But is this real? Some people want
to prove they’re part of an ethnic group. Some had their family
history severed from them. Some want to find out
really where they’re from. Others are just curious. But DNA testing to find
out your ancestors probably ain’t the best route. Full disclosure– Discovery
paid for me to get my DNA tested with 23andMe for a video
Amy and I did a while ago. I was told, growing up, that I
was mixes of French and Irish, German, Native American,
Spanish, and Swedish. And when my results came
back, some of that was true. And a lot of it didn’t
seem to be at all. According to the
company, my ethnicity has actually changed
over the years as more people
commit their DNA data to the companies’ databases. DNA testing isn’t new. In 1984, a geneticist,
Dr. Alec Jeffreys, was studying hereditary
disease in the UK, and he discovered VNTRs, or
Variable Number Tandem Repeats, sections of DNA that are unique. And they can be passed
from parents to offspring. And he was able to use
film, photographic film, and use a process to
assess a DNA fingerprint. This was the first indication
that you could actually use this little
strand of genetics to identify
individual people, not just by VNTRs, but
as technology got better and better, by other
mutations and variations, too. Because see, as we
spread out of Africa and into Asia and Europe, we
had lots and lots of babies. And when we did that,
little mutations popped up here and
there in our genome and in the little mutants. We call these Single Nucleotide
Polymorphisms, or SNPs. Those little variations
are the basis for all of the DNA heredity
you’re seeing around today. Think about it this way. Let’s say this hot dog
emoji popped up in my DNA in the 1100s in one of my SNPs. And it didn’t affect anything,
but I passed it on to my kids. And then they did, and then
they did, and then they did. Eventually, many hundreds
of thousands of people would have this hot
dog mutation, hot dog. This string of us
making has all sorts of SNPs scattered throughout it. And with enough DNA, plus a
lot of related family history, geneticists and
mathematicians and researchers can make statistical
models and start to guess and pinpoint
extended families and groups by these mutations. These are guesses based on data. And the data is
not yet complete. Utah billionaire
James L Sorenson created a foundation
that collected DNA from 100,000 people worldwide. He wanted to see exactly how
we were all related everywhere on the planet. And that database was
bought by Ancestry.com. They now use it as the basis
for their genealogy guesses. But even 100,000 humans
out of billions worldwide only gives them a sample. And they have oversampled
from certain places and undersampled from others. And that’s just one company. Everybody’s using
different data sets. Our DNA ancestry
data today is mostly comprised of people
from Africa and Europe. If you want ancestry
data from elsewhere– say you have a
relative from Asia– sucks to be you. If you have ancestors from
China or Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, one of the many
other countries containing more than 50 ethnic minorities
across the hugest continent around, well, your level
of detail is [INAUDIBLE].. Professor Jonathan Marks told
McClatchy– genomics companies are, quote, “a mix of science
and corporate hucksterism.” I mean, did anyone double-check
family histories here? Did they do actual genealogy,
or did we all just accept self-reported data? Did they get their data from
Grandma or crazy Uncle Jerry and believe everything
they told them? It’s not like there are
regulations on these claims. They’re just that– claims. Different companies
will literally give you different heritages
because of their data set. So is this real? Not really. The science is
still way too new, and way more research
is needed before anyone could use your genome to
find all your relatives with any measure of accuracy. Of course, there are also
privacy implications here, too, and it’s a whole other thing. Make sure that you look into
that before you give your DNA data to anyone. This is a big topic. I mean, people in politics
are using their DNA history to attack each other,
which is just real silly. So the question I have for
you all is, what do you think? Is DNA better or paperwork? Because if we’re
looking to science so that we can ignore a
person’s skin color or language vernacular or ethnic
identification, traditional clothing,
or even country that their parents or
grandparents lived in, then what does that
actually mean to say– where are you
from, who are you– without your recent past? Are these DNA mutations stronger
than your great-grandma’s recipes and comfort foods, than
your traditions and holidays? How does your DNA
help answer this? Ask yourself, before you
go full bore, how much this will weigh on who you are. Because you’re the culmination
of thousands of generations of humanity stretching across
continents, oceans, and time. We are one human family. And all of our food and
music, our dancing and fashion and holidays, they’re
human holidays. Can we get some music for that? Please share this video for
more Uno Doses of Trace. Subscribe, so that you get all
of the videos on this channel. How many more takes of
that do you think we need? I’m making new ones
every week just for you. Love you all. We’ll see you next time. [PLAYING FIFE]

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