Twins get ‘mystifying’ DNA ancestry test results (Marketplace)


♪ [ theme ] -[ Charlsie ] One set
of identical twins, five DNA ancestry tests. What?! I have French and German. Oh, I don’t have that. -[ Charlsie ] Five
different sets of results. We strongly think that
you and your sister should get the same report. I don’t want to
be a buzz kill. I don’t think it’s
entirely accurate. -[ Charlsie ] Want to know
more about your heritage? You can’t afford to
miss this Marketplace. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] I’m on holiday
in the Mediterranean. Tunisia I think is that way. And Sicily is that way. I’m heading back to my
roots or what I think are my roots. [ Speaking Italian ] Giuseppe driving the boat. My family hails back to Sicily. So here we are
in beautiful Noto. Buona sera. Off the tip of Italy. And I have Polish and
Ukrainian roots too. Or at least that’s
what my family tells me. So how can I be sure? I thought I married
an Italian. I found out that I
was only 16% Italian. He was 34% eastern European. -[ Charlsie ] Judging
by marketing like this, DNA tests have the answers. [ ♪♪ ] When I found you in my DNA,
I learned where my strength comes from. -[ Charlsie ] Millions
of people are buying kits curious about their ancestry. You can pinpoint specifically? -[ Charlsie ] Companies promise
their tests will reveal where you come from,
who your people are. It’s really nice to have
some kind of a connection to my background. -[ Charlsie ] But just
how accurate are they? We’re testing five
companies to find out. Ancestry DNA, 23andMe,
MyHeritage DNA, FamilyTree DNA and Living DNA. [ Doorbell Rings ] Hello. Thank you. Oh, and there’s a twist. Oh, yeah. You have some drool. There you go. -[ Charlsie ] My sister
Carly is in on this too. That’s her son, Max. And, no, you’re
not seeing double. We’re identical twins. Ooh. All right.
-Step one. -[ Charlsie ] Fill the tube with
saliva to the black wavy line. Carly and I are
testing two things. Will the companies have
different breakdowns from each other? I have way too many bubbles? And will they have different
breakdowns for each of us? I feel like I’m
on Law and Order. -[ Charlsie ] Yeah.
CSI. It’s DNA science. We’re identical twins,
so the results should all be the same, right? Cheers. Don’t touch it, though. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] I double check to
make sure we’re not mixing up our samples. This is going all the
way to Dublin, Ireland. The Netherlands. Concord, Ontario. And two are going to Texas. [ ♪♪ ] I’m shook. -[ Charlsie ] These ancestry
kits can change some people’s sense of who they are. 11% Scandinavia,
which I love. Now, this is crazy because
like I said it’s a very– it’s a big percentage. We are 53% Nigerian. Woo! My mom was full Chinese. My dad is half Chinese. Half we thought was
Spanish but it’s British. 5% of me is Ashkenazi Jewish. I don’t even know
what Ashkenazi means. It’s D-day or rather DNA
day for the Agro sisters. Alright, so let’s get after it. -[ Charlsie ] First up,
ancestry DNA, the biggest in the biz. Okay. -[ Charlsie ] Ready? 1-2-3. What?! [ Laughter ] 30–
– Russia?! -[ Charlsie ] 39% eastern
Europe and Russia. No way. -[ Charlsie ] What
does yours say? Did you get the exact same? -[ Charlsie ] Wow didn’t expect
that much eastern Europe. And it gets very
specific with Italy. We did get Sicily.
– Greece and Balkan. -[ Charlsie ] Greece and Balkan.
– Yeah! Oh, cool.
Okay. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] Familytree DNA
throws us a few surprises. Wow. I’m 13% Middle Eastern. -[ Charlsie ] And
then there’s Iberia. This is neat though. That’s Spain, that’s Portugal. -[ Charlsie ] Yeah, I
never would have guessed. And get this, according to
MyHeritage… [ Music Playing ] -[ Charlsie ] ..we may
not even be Italian. Holy.
So… -[ Charlsie ] 60.7% Balkan.
– Okay, click on them. -[ Charlsie ] 19% Greek. Oh, my gosh. -[ Charlsie ] Car, 3.4% Italian. It’s actually saying
you are 3.4% Italian. So are we a little
bit or a lot Italian? Mostly East European
or mostly Balkan? What’s up with these results? I’m hoping
Simone Gravel can explain. Hello, Dr. Gravel.
– Hi, welcome to the lab. -[ Charlsie ] Charlsie.
– Nice to meet you. -[ Charlsie ] Thank you. He is a population geneticist
at McGill University in Montreal. Last time you saw your DNA,
I’m guessing it was in a little tube like this. I spit in quite a
few of those, yes. That’s right. So, once you send those
to the companies, they’ll take your saliva. They clean it up. They will break down the cells
so they can free the DNA, and then clean the DNA,
break it into small pieces. And then they lay it out on
one of these chips here. -[ Charlsie ] So, if we look at
this chip, will my spit on this chip tell me that definitively
I am Italian or definitively I am from wherever? No. There are a lot of steps
that go in between. A lot of statistical
interpretation and models and, you know, whose
genome your genome is being compared to. -[ Charlsie ] Here’s
how it works. Our entire DNA is made
up of 3 billion parts. Ancestry companies, though,
look at less than 1% of those. About 700,000 sections where
they know there are slight differences or
variants among humans. Then, they compare the patterns
of your differences to groups of people in their databases. And with the help of math, they
try to figure out which groups you most likely belong to. It’s not a hundred
percent sure. So statistics tell
us in our model, what’s the best situation? It is a statistical guess. -[ Charlsie ] Yeah.
– It’s an informed guess. But it is never a hundred
percent sure thing. -[ Charlsie ] Sure. Growing up, we were German. -[ Charlsie ] Not a sure thing? That sure isn’t
the message here. The big surprise was
we’re not German at all. 52% of my DNA comes
from Scotland and Ireland. So, I traded in my
lederhosen for a kilt. -[ Charlsie ] So you were
shaking your head. This one drives me nuts. You know, and I see
it all the time. Whether you want to wear
lederhosen or something else is not tied to your DNA. -[ Charlsie ] Okay. Timothy Caulfield is
a health policy professor who studies the
ancestry business. It’s an exciting story, right? It’s about you, right?. I get why they’re doing it. But is it really
what’s happening? Can they really
be that accurate? I think they’re selling
something that isn’t really supported by the science. With 23andme.com you can find
out your percentages of DNA from 31 populations
around the world. -[ Charlsie ] What do you
think about the messages that are being
sent to consumers? I think it’s misleading. These companies are really
trying to push the idea that this is scientific, right? They are using
scientific language. They present it in a way that
looks very sciency and precise. -[ Charlsie ] Caulfield says
what people are really buying is entertainment. I think it’s
recreational science. They can have a little
bit of fun with this stuff. Don’t take it too seriously. Know that you are just getting
some information that is an approximation of how your
DNA compares to other people. It’s not tracing
back your heritage. -[ Charlsie ] Back in
Montreal, Gravel agrees. Specific percentages
should not be interpreted as, like, definitive like here’s
your percentage ancestry from this place. That’s not that.
-[ Charlsie ] No. The only one we can kind
of interpret them like this are the continental level. -[ Charlsie ] Hmm.
Really? The most certain thing they
can tell you is which continent you’re from? And get this, over at
Living DNA in the fine print, the company admits some of
its results are guesses. We highlight the sources of
your ancestry which are likely to be present using our best
guess of the exact source. The deeper I go, the
more questions I have. And at 23andMe their
guess work isn’t apparent until we stumble upon this. Select confidence level. What? Why does it say 50%? Does that mean you’re only 50%
sure what you told me is right? Yeah.
That’s what it says. -[ Charlsie ] Is
that what it means? Yeah, or at least 50%. That seems shocking. Only half sure. Yeah. -[ Charlsie ] Do you think that
most people know that? No, no. I would like it if they
presented their uncertainties more clearly. -[ Charlsie ] That’s right. 50% confidence is
23andMe ‘s default setting. Check out what happens
when we switch it to 90%, the most confident setting. 23andMe says we’re mostly
from somewhere in Europe. I would not take this
as a science has spoken kind of thing. -[ Charlsie ] Forget all my
Italian traditions and embrace the Balkan in me.
– That’s right. Exactly, right?
I would not do that. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] This is
your Marketplace. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] DNA ancestry
tests, have you heard of these things?
– Yes. I’ve seen a lot of deals around
New Years or Christmas. Half off. -[ Charlsie ] I’m out on the
town wondering what people know about DNA ancestry kits
that are selling like crazy. I got it for my mom for fun
just because she’s so proud of her Irish heritage. Cheers. Don’t touch it though. -[ Charlsie ] My twin and
I are testing top five selling ancestry kits. Oh! -[ Charlsie ] And getting
different results. What?! I think they’re selling
something that isn’t really supported by the science. -[ Charlsie ] So you would
think the test should be pretty accurate? Is it not? I think they must be pretty
accurate or else they wouldn’t be, like, getting all
the hype that they do, I’m assuming, at least. I think they’re true. I mean, I would trust them. We’re engineering students. We think science,
we think accuracy. Personally I would think
they’re accurate results. -[ Charlsie ] I took five tests. So did my sister. What would you
expect the results to be? The same, identical. They should be the same.
– The same. Identical. -[ Charlsie ] Should
be identical, right? Should be identical. -[ Charlsie ] Now, it’s time
to take the twin test. A little chubby. That’s me. -[ Charlsie ] Yeah,
because I think that’s me. Ready? 1-2-3. -[ Charlsie ] At 23andMe
it’s a promising start. Mine says 98.1% European
and yours says 98.2. We’re pretty close. -[ Charlsie ] Italian, 37.7. Ooh, 36.8. But then we begin growing apart. Only 28% Eastern
European on this one. I’m only 24% Eastern
European on this one. This one actually
says Poland. -[ Charlsie ] Mine doesn’t. Mine does. -[ Charlsie ] What?
– Yeah. Look. Poland, possible match. -[ Charlsie ] Poland was
not detected on mine. It specifically
says not detected. And it gets weirder. Okay, this is hilarious,
though, because, look, French and German. What? Oh, I don’t have that. -[ Charlsie ] You
don’t have that at all? No. -[ Charlsie ] We are
identical twins. But you would have to wonder
with results like these. I’m 3.8% broadly European. I’m 12.7. -[ Charlsie ] Wow,
that’s a big difference. Yeah. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] How
is this possible? In search of answers,
I travel to new England to Yale University and meet
up with Mark Gerstein and his international team of
computational biologists. They study DNA and statistics. And they are stunned
by our twin results. I have to say, that
one really shocked us. I mean, we expected two
identical twins to have the exact same ancestry
and they should. The fact that they present
different results for you and your sister I find
very mystifying. We thought for sure that the
differences had to do when one person spit, there was a
contaminant in the sample. -[ Charlsie ] But then
you looked at the raw data and you’re saying you checked.
– There’s no difference. -[ Charlsie ] And
there’s no difference? No difference.
It’s shockingly similar. It’s scarily the same. -[ Charlsie ] The Yale team
downloaded and compared our DNA sections from
all five companies. The agreement between
you and your sister is 99.6%, 99.7% agreement. -[ Charlsie ] 23andMe’s
own data says we’re statistically identical. It’s the same for
other companies. Why would Car be more
eastern European than I would if our DNA is the same? She’s not.
I mean, there’s nothing to say– You and your twin sister
have the same genetic ancestry, end of day. There’s nothing to say. I mean, that’s the truth. -[ Charlsie ] How can
we explain this result? This must be purely in terms
of the analysis that 23andMe does on the data. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] 23andMe
isn’t the only company with funny twin differences. Oh, great. Now you’re Scottish and Irish. Alright, I’ll give you that. -[ Charlsie ] Living DNA
is serving up some stumpers too. Yours says south Italy. Mine says Tuscany. I just don’t understand how you
could have a Tuscany marker and I don’t? -[ Charlsie ] I don’t know. You have to come from
one region in Italy. You cannot come from
Tuscany and Sicily. It just doesn’t work from that. I mean in this one, your
sister comes from England. But you come from Scotland
and then Ireland. -[ Charlsie ] But not everybody
has us that far apart. [ ♪♪ ] MyHeritage, the company that
says we barely have Italian ancestry gives us the
closest twins results. So one of the good things
about this company is that it’s very consistent. -[ Charlsie ] Okay,
can we go to ancestry? And Ancestry DNA and Family Tree
are pretty consistent too. So, if the DNA technology
says we’re identical twins, why are some companies giving us
different ancestry breakdowns? We spent many hours trying
to understand why they might be different, but we cannot. I think that the clean thing
to say is we don’t know how they did the calculations but
we strongly think that you and your sister should get the
same report, end of day. -[ Charlsie ] When we asked
23andMe and Living DNA about our twin results, they
say even tiny variations in our DNA can lead their
formulas to give us different estimates because, remember,
while companies all rely on the same DNA science,
they have different formulas and different people in
their database to determine which population
group you belong to. And whatever your results… 11% Scandinavia,
which I love. -[ Charlsie ] ..don’t get
too attached because they may change. There’s been some changes. There’s been
changes in my results. I was 11% Scandinavian
on my other test. Where did that 11% go? -[ Charlsie ] It
happened to Carly and me too with ancestry DNA. Look, look, look,
look, though, look. This was my first result, but
it was updated to this when the database and
math changed. Check out the differences. I think that’s nuts
how much it changed. -[ Charlsie ] The health policy
prof knows all about it. I was once 100% Irish. I do love Guinness an awful lot. But now apparently
I’m, like, 80%. -[ Charlsie ] Your results don’t
stay the same over time. Often they change as
the companies update their databases. The commercials
don’t mention that. What do you think of that? They don’t mention that, right? It actually does evolve
which is a really telling point. It shows how imprecise it is
and gives you a sense of the way the science actually works. -[ Charlsie ] People hear DNA
and think science, legit, CSI, Law & Order,
everyone going to jail or getting out of
jail because of DNA. You’re exactly right. And they’re leveraging that
excitement, the excitement that comes from the genuine
stuff from science but also the excitement in pop culture
to give it this veneer of legitimacy. And I think that’s
a little misleading. Charlsie: This is
yourMarketplace.♪ ♪ -[ Charlsie ] My twin and I
have learned that ancestry tests aren’t really
as advertised. Now, I’m more confused now
than I was before we started. And I have more questions
than I do answers about who I am, where I’m from,
and what this all means. Look, I don’t
want to be a grump. If people find this fun, okay. But do not put too
much weight on it. -[ Charlsie ] Yet, the industry
is booming thanks to low prices, slick marketing, and
our own curiosity. You can connect more deeply
to the places of your past. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] The five
companies in our test say they use rigorous science. They also acknowledge
their ethnic breakdowns are statistical estimates. Family Tree DNA says figuring
out ethnicity is not clear cut because it’s kind of
a science and an art. MyHeritage says its
customers understand the results are estimates. I’m going to show
you a commercial. Out on the street, do
people really know that? Now that you have seen the
advertisements and the some of the promises, what do you
make about what you’re actually getting, what they can tell you? There’s no– not a shred
of doubt that what they’re showing you is accurate. -[ Charlsie ] It’s an estimate. Really? It’s not accurate? -[ Charlsie ] Estimate. That’s what experts tell us. Are you surprised? Yes, I kind of wanted to do it. I would like to assume
there’s a bit more evidence behind there when they
are going through the DNA. More science behind it. -[ Charlsie ] You think there’s
some good science behind it? I’d like to believe, yes.
-[ Charlsie ] Okay. I don’t know. I’m kind of sad right now. Make a statement on
how accurate they are. Those ads where they have
the really small writing at the bottom of the screen, just write
it there and say the results may vary depending on
what test you take. I would like to see the
messaging being more scientifically accurate, right?
-[ Charlsie ] Mmm-hmm. If you could recreate
them for these companies, what should the messaging be? What should they look like? Well, you know, I don’t
want to be a buzz kill. I think my ads would
probably be a little bit boring. Push the idea this is
recreational science. You know, let’s see how your
DNA compares to a bunch of other people’s DNA.
-[ Charlsie ] Okay. This isn’t going to be
terribly accurate or precise, but it’s going to be fun. -[ Charlsie ] Caulfield says
there’s a subtle message in some of the marketing
that he finds troubling. Yes, there are biological
variations between populations. But there aren’t these
discrete biological borders. That’s a dangerous message if
you think about it in this world where we’re worried about
nationalism and tribalism. They’re saying that there
are biological families. That’s scientifically wrong
but also potentially socially problematic. -[ Charlsie ] And here’s some
science everyone agrees on. We humans share more
than 99% of our DNA. We’re a lot more alike
than we are different. [ ♪♪ ] -[ Charlsie ] Have
you done a DNA test? What did you think
of your results? Take our Marketplace
poll on Facebook. [ ♪♪ ]

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