Layoffs at Genetic Testing Companies Reflect the Changing Market

This is a follow-up to articles I published recently: the layoff at 23andMe announced at http://bit.ly/2vhC1FH and the layoff at Ancestry announced at http://bit.ly/2SsW0t5.

An article by Nicole Wetsman in The Verge web site adds more information in a review of today’s DNA testing business and suggestions as to the underlying causes of these business setbacks. You can find Nicole Wetsman’s article in The Verge at http://bit.ly/2H2ZJYW.

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The second article I would say is closer to the reality because what these companies have apparently just realized is that for most people the whole DNA/genealogical market was/is essentially a fad and like all fads they come and go. Note that I am not saying that DNA testing is not a valuable tool for some but the real benefits are for those people who already have a reasonably good family history database. Ancestry’s earliest TV ads (I believe far more frequent on US television than here in Canada) hyped the DNA analysis with such nonsense as for example with the person who claimed she had the DNA test done, entered her parent’s and grandparent’s names and magically found out she was a distant cousin of George Washington. I had the Ancestry DNA test done about 3 or 4 years ago initially out of curiosity, and in part because in my professional life (prior to retirement) I was a molecular biologist and started to use the “new, rapid” protocols for DNA sequence determination in the early 80s. When I started to examine Ancestry’s relationship predictions I already had a solid, extensive and quite deep family tree so I knew I wasn’t going to get any stunning surprises. When I examine the current list of Ancestry-predicted hits for me (so 1000+ 4th cousins or closer, and more than the 50,000 at the upper limit of what they list) even today a significant percentage of people do not have a single name in any tree data, although I see that the proportion of people who have at least same data has improved as time has passed. I am convinced that many people (so those with little or no genealogical information for themselves) took the Ancestry DNA believing that they would just have to wait and their family tree would appear before them with essentially no effort on their part. I suspect that most of the followers of this blog have been deep in genealogy for many years, even decades, and are well aware, as I certainly am, that proper genealogical research is often a long, hard slog. Ancestry DNA predictions can be a useful tool in resolving some road blocks but for me it has, with a few exceptions, allowed me to just expand details at what I would call the edges of my family tree.
I personally have been able to use Ancestry DNA results to resolve a few vexing questions in my own direct ancestry (issues dating back to the early to mid 1700s) but frankly I have had maybe only about 4 or 5 reasonable interactions with people at Ancestry and all but 1 of them were clearly experienced, serious genealogists. Over the years I have contacted a number of Ancestry users to fill them in on how I knew, or how I discovered by additional research, we had a predicted DNA connection but it was rare that I even got a response and so I have pretty much given up bothering with that exercise.
Now the hype in the DNA genetic analysis business is focused on personal health predictions and guidance, etc. but with some notable exceptions that field is still in its infancy and I would not yet take it seriously.

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As a former early biochemist/molecular biologist, Amen to the health aspects.

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My DNA results to connect with others led to minimal info. One my cousin, several, already known g’parent relatives, (none of it helpful) then nothing ’til 4th generations & beyond.Yes I knew German, English, Ohio & abt 2 other locations relationships, so nothing new. Now Health??? No one I know will put health related facts on their tree unless it may be death certificate. One signs paper at Dr.’s office relating to privacy. What good does it do to infer g’father had arthritis, as do I. (Only that farther down my line- which stops with my children, as there are no g’kids, someone MAY too have it )In years to come DNA probably will help, but other than using it for finding criminals, I do NOT like this probable ancestry focus. As I’ve said before ancestry needs to stay with genealogy records & keep out of the “medical” field.

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Is MyHeritage having the same dropoff? I suggested a few years ago that Ancestry’s outright failure to support serious use of DNA for genealogy would potentially hurt their sales. No chromosome browser, no capability for the individual customer to test hypotheses scientifically. Their recent move into DNA-related health interpretation completely negates any of their prior claims about no chromosome browser because of privacy and security concerns. Business will go to the company that provides the best tools with the largest pool of samples. Ancestry does not appear to aspire to be that company.

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