Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Science

If we already had all the answers, there wouldn’t be any more science to do.

Pie charts and percentages tell AncestryDNA customers the story of where their ancestors probably lived, and lists of DNA matches help them to find living relatives and expand their family trees.  Behind those results are terabytes of data, years of hard work, and a lot of rigorous science.

Behind this science is the AncestryDNA science team.  This team of ten really smart people and 15 advanced degrees (nine of which are PhD’s) make current and future features of AncestryDNA possible.

On the science team, we ask lots of questions.  To answer those questions, we analyze vast amounts of genetic data, write and test (and debug) a lot of computer programs, calculate volumes of telling statistics, and make tons of detailed graphs. We then get really excited about all of those graphs and statistics, discuss our findings, generate more questions, and do it all over again.

This science is at the forefront of major advancements in human genetics.  Its ultimate goal is to provide our customers with the best information for making discoveries about their family stories.

By nature, our scientific research is iterative and cyclical.

Genetic ethnicity and relationships based on genetic data have to be estimated.  Our estimates deal with uncertainties, since inheriting DNA from your parents and through the generations is a random process.  We also make our estimates based on sets of assumptions and approximations that model recent human genetic history.

As you might imagine, that history is really complicated, and there are a number of different ways that we could model itWith further scientific advancements, we can continue to construct better and better approximations of the way things happen in the real world.  That means better AncestryDNA estimates.

That brings us back to the science team’s experiments and tests.  When we gather new data or develop methods that will improve DNA results, we push to implement them.  Our customers’ DNA results are based on a lot of thorough science, and our curiosity and scientific rigor continue to drive us.  Future advancements you’ll see in the AncestryDNA experience benefit from the scientific breakthroughs that we are making today.

So as the current science underlying our estimates of genetic ethnicity and genetic relatives progresses, so will the ethnicity and matching results.  Iterative improvements to AncestryDNA results are evidence of the sweat of the science team, and AncestryDNA customers directly benefit from our research.

By studying the unique collection of data that is part of our experiments, we are also generating novel scientific knowledge.  As part of this unique collection of data, our customers are helping us to uncover a great deal of fascinating information about human migrations and genetic genealogy.  Our findings have been and will continue to be released to the broader scientific community through publications, conferences, and this blog.

In future posts, I’ll give the technical details of our research projects. I’ll reveal our latest scientific conclusions, explain the challenging issues we are seeing and how we are addressing them, and describe how our research advances AncestryDNA – and ultimately affects you.

In the meantime, we’ll be doing some really cool science.

About Julie Granka

Julie has been a population geneticist at AncestryDNA since May 2013. Before that, Julie received her Ph.D. in Biology and M.S. in Statistics from Stanford University, where she studied genetic data from human populations and developed computational tools to answer questions about population history and evolution. She also spent time collecting and studying DNA using spit-collection tubes like the ones in an AncestryDNA kit. Julie likes to spend her non-computer time enjoying the outdoors – hiking, biking, running, swimming, camping, and picnicking. But if she’s inside, she’s baking, drawing, and painting.


Richard Tallent 

This may seem like an obvious question, but do you attempt to correlate member DNA with the general places (countries, states, etc.) listed up the line in their trees?

September 29, 2013 at 7:06 am
    Julie Granka 

    Thank you for your interest, Richard. After taking a DNA test, an individual may see where their genetic ethnicity estimates and the birth locations in their tree line up. In addition, one can compare the birth locations in their own tree to those in the trees of their DNA relatives.

    November 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm
Ruthann Gray 

How can I get my DNA testing done ,and can it then be put on my tree?

October 27, 2013 at 6:04 pm
Unraveling the Science Behind Ethnicity Estimation 

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October 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm
What Do Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh Have in Common? 

[…] on AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates for over 300,000 AncestryDNA customers*, the AncestryDNA science team set out to discover the “most Irish” regions of the […]

March 14, 2014 at 7:21 pm
The DNA matching research and development life cycle 

[…] genetics suggest that they are related through a recent common ancestor. But DNA matching is an evolving science.  By analyzing the results from our current method for DNA matching, we have learned how we might […]

August 19, 2014 at 8:24 pm
AncestryDNA Goes to DNA Days in DC 

[…] a half-million people in the AncestryDNA database has given our science team a lot of exciting data to look at and carefully analyze. I think it is impressive that we have so […]

August 20, 2014 at 2:14 pm
Robert C. Hathaway 

I am 80 years old this Dec. And never really sure wher I came from, will a DNA test help me find out wher I came from.


May 7, 2015 at 8:03 pm
Over one million DNA samples and many new scientific research findings 

[…] of human genetic data around the world.   That amount of DNA data powers the AncestryDNA science team to perform research at an unprecedented scale – both to learn more about human population history […]

October 2, 2015 at 8:20 pm

When I was born,if your mother wasn’t married YOUR FATHERs name wasn’t on your birth record,All my life I WAS ‘colored;But looked white.I did a ‘DNA; found out I was 67%white.How do I get my records straight.IM 77 ,BUT I WOULD LIKE TO GET ALL RIGHT for my family .

October 16, 2015 at 3:57 pm
Muhammad A. A. A. 

Ms. Granka, Peace.
I appreciate and respect you.

Now, are there any African and African Americans on the Science Team?
Thank you.

April 25, 2016 at 1:39 pm

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