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Do DNA Kits Really Hold African American Ancestry Keys?

Do DNA Kits Really Hold African American Ancestry Keys?

By Taylor Durham

  • Euro-centric companies are scrambling to add people from Africa to their reference panels

  • In 2017, DTC genetic testing market raked in $90M in sales

Companies like 23andMe and Ancestry have made a profitable model out of exploiting our natural curiosities, whether it’s tracing our lineage back to Africa or taking a greater investment in our personal health. The DTC (direct-to-consumer) genetic testing market raked in $90 million in sales in 2017, and that same market is poised to triple in size headed into the next decade.

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Why This Matters: The thought of being able to purchase a DNA kit may have seemed far fetched 30 years ago, but now you can purchase one from Amazon (AMZN -0.29%) for less than $70. It’s fascinating that there’s been an uptick in minorities, especially African Americans, looking to the test as a way of researching their roots. These heavily Euro-centric companies are scrambling to add people from Africa to their reference panels, the groups of people whose DNA is used to establish baseline ethnicities, to tap further into the estimated $1.3 trillion in black spending power.

“As African-Americans, we have a distinct challenge in terms of tracing our ancestry, because slavery is a research brick wall. But we’ve got our family history essentially etched into our DNA. Those stories are there to be uncovered,” said Andre Kearns, a genealogist and marketing executive in Washington, D.C.

Euro-centric companies are scrambling to add people from Africa to their reference panels

The discovery process that DTC genetic testing has made so easily accessible, is typically seen as a way to truly reconnect with a part of history that has been deemed “lost” for generations. While DNA testing still strongly favors those of European descent, there’s hope on the horizon. AfricanAncestry.com looks solely at African heritage and has 33,000 samples representing 40 African countries, it is 100% black owned. Most genealogical DNA companies see their biggest sales spike around the holidays, for AfricanAncestry.com it comes during Black History month.

AncestryDNA, which is one of the largest such companies, has a database of roughly 10 million people. A large collection of data increases the accuracy of determining one’s ethnicity and possible migration patterns of their ancestors. Also, the company is the largest ad spender, totaling $109 million on TV and other ads in 2016, with that figure only expected to climb in the next few years.

Situational Awareness: When it comes to uncovering the past, African Americans have always faced an uphill battle. This is due to enslaved women being raped by white owners, AfricanAncestry.com recommends people start by tracing their maternal line which generally shows 92% African lineage, compared to just 65% of the paternal lines.

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