By Steven Frank
Ancestry.com has begun to roll out a new feature to some customers who have purchased DNA kits. The feature, AncestryDNA Traits, provides genetic traits regarding appearance and other physical features based on your DNA results.
There are currently 18 traits included in AncestryDNA Traits: Sweet food preference, Savory food preference, Bitter food preference, cilantro aversion, asparagus metabolite detection, male pattern baldness, straight vs. curly hair, hair color, hair thickness, iris pattern, eye color, freckles, cleft chin, unibrow, finger length, skin pigmentation, earlobe shape, and dry vs. wet earwax.
These traits are largely the same as those offered by 23andMe (included in the $199 Ancestry + Health option), as well as by FamilyTreeDNA’s Factoids Addon (which costs $129). Of note, these are not health reports. Although AncestryDNA promises to add additional traits, it is unlikely these will include any significant health reports in the foreseeable future. This is because, like 23andMe, AncestryDNA would need to seek FDA approval prior to offering health reports. Such a process would likely take up to a year to complete.
Another feature of the traits is the ability to compare traits with your DNA matches. However, this is only available if your DNA matches have also purchased the AncestryDNA Traits feature. You can however see how prevalent each trait is within the various ethnic communities in you Ancestry Report.
AncestryDNA Traits is available for existing customers as a $9.99 addon. For future test takers AncestryDNA Traits will be offered as an addon at the time of purchase. According to this blog article, AncestryDNA is preparing to drop its regular price for kits to $79, at which time AncestryDNA Traits will be offered as a $19.99 addon for new kits. This update is expected sometime before the end of the year.
So is it worth it? I expect a lot of customers will be underwhelmed by the information contained in AncestryDNA Traits. The current 18 traits do not convey any useful information, certainly nothing people would not already know about themselves. However, it is a relatively low cost for those interested in learning these factoids. The other options – 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and even Promethease – cost more to access this same information. Plus the promise of additional traits in the future may make it worth it for many customers. There are a few notable traits Ancesty could offer that might be of more interest to customers. For example, genes responsible for lactose intolerance, muscle performance, longevity, caffiene metabolization, and alcohol and nicotine dependence are all sampled by the chip used by AncestryDNA. These tests are borderline health related, but are not likely to trigger FDA review as a health product (FamilyTreeDNA offers all of these as addons without FDA approval).
My current recommendation is to wait and see what additional traits are offered by Ancestry. Should additional traits show up with any regular frequency over the next few months, I will start recommending this product as a good way to gain more information from your DNA tests.