Ever wondered where your freckles came from? Or why you hate cilantro? The likelihood that an individual exhibits a certain phenotype is based, in part, on the presence or absence of markers in their genotype that are associated with specific traits. A few weeks ago, AncestryDNA unveiled a new feature–AncestryDNA Traits–that provides customers with insights into their “Appearance Traits” (including finger length, hair color and iris patterns) and “Sensory Traits” (including cilantro aversion, sweet sensitivity and bitter sensitivity). For $9.99, customers receive a “Traits Report” and can invite their DNA matches to compare their own reports, as well.
I think it’s fair to say that genetic genealogy and DNA testing is revolutionizing the way we, as genealogists, conduct family history research. And it’s fun, too: we all love to share our “Ethnicity Estimates,” and I had to check out AncestryDNA’s “Your Heritage Playlist,” no matter that it’s a silly marketing tool. The real value of a DNA test, though, is in the cousin matches, as well as in the potential to discover long-lost ancestors or to solve adoption mysteries. AncestryDNA Traits, it seems to me, is another marketing ploy, one designed to “keep up” with 23andMe’s genetic health, ancestry and traits reports. But did I fall for it? Of course; I need more ideas for the blog!
According to my traits report, I likely have a “cleft chin,” a small indentation in the chin that forms when the two sides of the lower jaw don’t completely fuse together. I apparently have the DNA for red hair–my father has the DNA for blonde hair–and “could pass on red hair” if I have children. I probably have dark eyes and a few freckles, I like the taste of cilantro, I’m sensitive to sweets (I mean, who isn’t?) and I’m extra sensitive to certain bitter tastes. That’s a lot of information, and there’s a few more details in the report that I haven’t mentioned, as well.
Is it right? The presence or absence of certain genetic markers aren’t the only factor in an individual’s phenotype; the individual’s environment maintains a role, too. Setting aside that the traits and their explanations, like a good Buzzfeed personality quiz, are incredibly vague, my “Traits Report” is somewhat accurate. I do have a small dimple in my chin that most people don’t notice; I had curly red hair until the age of four, when my hair turned light brown and straight; and my face is covered in tiny freckles. I have dark brown eyes, I love sugar and I don’t dislike cilantro, which is as close as I can get to liking it. If a hatred of ginger counts as being “extra sensitive to certain bitter tastes,” then that’s probably right, too.
An attempt at taking graduation photos (don’t ask, ha!)
My thoughts? If you’re an AncestryDNA customer like me and you haven’t taken a 23andMe test (yet!), reviewing your “Traits Report” is a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The report lacks the health and wellness component that 23andMe advertises and is known for, and for me, that component seems more helpful than reading about my freckles or my lack of aversion to cilantro. This isn’t to say that I’m not glad I went with AncestryDNA as my first DNA test: I value the cousin matches for their addition to my family history research, and AncestryDNA does have the largest pool of customers on the market at present. But is the “Traits Report” worth an extra $9.99? Maybe not.