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Ancestry.com Planning New Enhancements to AncestryDNA Service after 'Really Good' First Year

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Ancestry.com has processed 120,000 samples since it launched its SNP microarray-based AncestryDNA service last year, and is planning new upgrades to the service, according to a company representative.

The Provo, Utah-based genealogy firm introduced AncestryDNA in May 2012, and began delivering results to customers the following month (BAN 5/29/2012).

The service relies on the Illumina HumanOmniExpress BeadChip platform to assess each sample across 700,000 markers, and allows customers to both determine their geographic and ethnic origins as well as identify distant cousins for genealogical research purposes.

"Since we launched in May 2012, we've had a really good year," Stephen Baloglu, director of marketing for AncestryDNA, told BioArray News this week.

He said that, on average, AncestryDNA customers have 35 4th cousin matches within the family history research site, which "comes out to more than 6 million 4th cousins and 13 million matches" made to date using the service. "We've been the fastest of any company in the business to reach these figures, and we continue to grow every day," he claimed.

Ancestry.com initially launched a beta version of AncestryDNA, with basic features to support customers' ability to find distant cousins or trace their deep ancestry. The company has since made multiple enhancements to the service, and earlier this year began offering users the ability to download their raw data in order to perform their own independent analyses (BAN 4/9/2013). The company also recently introduced a new feature that enables users to search the family trees of their DNA matches, Baloglu said.

There also continues to be "quite a bit in the product pipeline" for AncestryDNA, according to Baloglu. Later this year, the company will roll out an update to its ethnicity determination features that will provide "more granular results across European and West African populations," along with a new web interface.

These updates will be free of charge to AncestryDNA customers, Baloglu noted. He added that the firm "continually reviews customer feedback to identify ways to enhance the experience."

Customers interested in genetic genealogy or ancestry testing services have a number of providers to choose from. In addition to Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and National Geographic all offer services that determine ancestral origins based on genotyping array data. Some, such as Family Tree DNA, also offer users the ability to pursue genealogical research within its website based on their array results.

All four services rely on Illumina-manufactured iSelect BeadChips of varying designs. Each service is priced differently. AncestryDNA currently costs $99, as do 23andMe and FTDNA's services. NatGeo charges $199 for its Geno 2.0 service, which it launched last year (BAN 7/31/2012).

Illumina has on several occasions in the past few months discussed the consumer genetics market. Speaking to investors in May, Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said that the "consumer market" now generates about $50 million in annual revenues for the company. "This is a very significant and growing business for us," Flatley said at the time, one that the firm believes will "continue to grow very fast" and will "at least double" in the next few years (BAN 5/21/2013).

According to Baloglu, Ancestry.com has sought to differentiate itself from 23andMe, FTDNA, and NatGeo by touting its existing family history resources, as well as its internal collection of DNA samples.

"AncestryDNA results are fully integrated to test takers' Ancestry.com family trees, historical documents, and other family history resources available on Ancestry.com," Baloglu said. This allows a customer to create a "360 degree view" of his or her history and allows "DNA to help paper record-based research and vice versa," meaning that a customer doing family history research may be able to develop a better understanding of his or her family history by looking at both DNA results and research materials.

Another differentiator for Ancestry.com is its database. In March 2012, Ancestry.com acquired access to an extensive collection of DNA assets, including DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information, from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization.

At the time of the deal, Ancestry.com noted that the Sorenson Foundation's collection includes "tens of thousands of DNA samples with documented family histories in more than 100 countries on six continents."

This week, Baloglu touted Ancestry.com's access to the "foremost diverse collection of DNA samples from around the world," which in turn power its ethnicity results, including the planned upgrades that will become available later this year.

Baloglu stressed that the 120,000 samples the company has processed to date is independent of the large database it acquired from Sorensen, which Ancestry.com uses for R&D purposes. Altogether though, he noted that Ancestry.com retains a "considerable amount of samples for data research."

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