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With 250K Samples Genotyped, Ancestry.com Plans to Improve Ethnicity Predictions, Matching Tools

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For Ancestry.com, 2013 was the "first full calendar year" of its array-based AncestryDNA service, a year that saw a "huge increase in interest from consumers, including a holiday season that was particularly strong," as well as improvements in the service itself, according to Ken Chahine, general manager of AncestryDNA and a senior vice president at the online genealogy company.

And Chahine told BioArray News this week that AncestryDNA customers should expect new features to become available soon.

"For 2014, we are looking to improve our matching algorithms and we will continue to offer ethnicity prediction updates," he said.

Ancestry.com already updated its ethnicity predictions last year and now can report back ancestral proportions tied to 26 different global regions, including 10 in Africa, six of which are in West Africa. "For the African American community, that's pretty important," Chahine noted.

He also claimed that the service has shown "huge improvement in terms of accuracy" related to its ethnicity predictions, and that it continues to invest in such features. "There will probably be another [ethnicity prediction] release later this year," Chahine confirmed.

There have also been investments in algorithms that match cousins based on their AncestryDNA results, a feature that is of importance to Ancestry.com customers, many of whom have been using documents to establish their relationships since the Provo, Utah, company first went online in 1997.

"We have been working hard on our identity-by-descent algorithms," said Chahine. "In 2014, the matching algorithms will all be updated and dramatically improved."

Ancestry.com rolled out its AncestryDNA service in May 2012, relying on Illumina-manufactured genotyping arrays, and in the first 21 months since becoming available, Chahine said that Ancestry.com has genotyped 250,000 samples. And as the number of Ancestry.com subscribers who have ordered the test increases, so does the quality of Ancestry.com's service, Chahine said.

"As we get more people in the database, the experience of having a customer find a cousin increases," he noted.

At the start of the year, Ancestry.com, like several other providers, upgraded to Illumina's 24-sample chip format, a change that company representatives said had little impact on their service. San Diego-based Illumina processes AncestryDNA samples in its facility. Chahine said that Ancestry.com had originally outsourced its testing to another lab, but that its volumes "got so huge" that it decided to work directly with Illumina, which can scale its genotyping turnaround to meet Ancestry.com's needs.

AncestryDNA competes most directly with services that offer kinship analysis, such as Family Tree DNA and 23andMe, although Ancestry.com also offers clients access to 11 billion historical records, a resource that can assist users in interpreting those matches, and is in Chahine's opinion a "huge advantage for the consumer."

Some of Ancestry.com's AncestryDNA customers are long-term subscribers, genealogists for whom DNA is "another really useful tool," said Chahine. Still, a sizable portion of users have been enticed to subscribe to the company in order to access its AncestryDNA service alone.

"These are people who would love to take a DNA test and are getting started in genealogy that way," Chahine said. He added, "Overall, our subscriber base is absolutely embracing these tests to maximize their genealogy experience."

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