DNA test for Hispanic heritage
June 30, 2016 9:06 AM   Subscribe

For her birthday, my adopted sister would like a DNA kit. She was adopted from Mexico (though since she was adopted from a border city full of a transient population, she could very well be from a Central or South American county) and her main interest is learning more about her ethnic heritage (e.g., Maya, Nahuatl, etc.) She is, right now, less interested in using a DNA test to find biological relationships or medical information. I have looked at a few different kits and am having trouble figuring out which ones offer the most data related to Hispanic ethnicity.

For example, it looks like the Ancestry.com kit can tell you if you are "Native American" but doesn't spell out if it can break it down further than that. The other two kits I've looked at (23andme and Familytreedna) don't seem to have info on their website that tells me how specific they can be about ethnic origin for Hispanics. Does anyone have a recommendation for me or can clarify how I can determine which kit is best?
posted by megancita to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have done 23andme, so this is only one data point FWIW.

Looking at my ancestry composition page (which looks like this) and having it show all possible populations, it looks like 23andme's methods can only resolve ancestry as far as the category "Native American".

If you had European ancestry, 23andme can break it down as far as:

European > Southern European > Italian

So you can differentiate between specific European ethnicities with 23andme - same thing with East Asian ethnicities (so you could get to "Korean" or "Chinese", for example). But Native American ancestry can only be broken down as far as this, unfortunately, it looks like:

East Asian & Native American > Native American

This isn't an issue with the kits or testing methods themselves - the companies are going off of a mix of published research data and self-reported ancestry then generating estimates based on that mix of data. Unfortunately, the bulk of research data so far has been generated in European and East Asian populations, which is why it's tough to get good estimates of the makeup of Hispanic ethnicities of individuals. Unless there's a company that we don't know about that's drawing on some special source of data gathered from Hispanic people, this may be a problem for any kit you and your friend look into, I'm afraid :-(
posted by un petit cadeau at 9:27 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Buzzfeed had some of their employees use 23 and Me; that goes to the part of the clip (some NSFW language) where one of the part Mexican guys is getting his results. You can briefly see the screenshot, and it looks like they don't have things split down any more than "Native American", which is a subcategory under the "East Asian and Native American" heading. (cf. the European bits which have things broken down into Iberian, Italian, etc.)

(On preview, what un petit cadeau said)
posted by damayanti at 9:28 AM on June 30, 2016

Could a Spanish speaker here or in your friend circle investigate whether there are kits marketed and sold in Latin / Central / South America?
posted by nicebookrack at 9:40 AM on June 30, 2016

You can do 23andme and get the bland results but then upload them to other sites that use different databases to check the results against. I've never looked at the ones for the region you're interested in but I assume they exist.
This kind of stuff does take some time to figure out the lingo and the communities that do this work. I've found that there are individuals in the online communities around this stuff that are often quite helpful with helping people interprete their results.

One thing that might be an issue - your sister will only carry her maternal genes so her test will give her no information about her biological father's side.
posted by k8t at 9:51 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Looks like DNA Tribes has a pretty good Latino/Hispanic heritage test with a ton of indigenous populations they test against.
posted by erst at 10:01 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's an interesting article about the limits of DNA testing in Slate this week, which includes a link to professor of Native studies Kim Tallbear's twitter takedown of the conversation around Elizabeth Warren's heritage.
posted by shaka_lulu at 10:28 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

She got her genes from both of her parents, but a 23 and me type test will not be able to tell her which she got from which parents, I think. I did the test, I know my parents and their ethnic backgrounds are dissimilar so I knew how to interpret it.

Here's a wikipedia entry on Latin American dna.
posted by mareli at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2016

In a buzzfeed video, one woman's results was that she was all African. She kind of awkwardly laughs it off. In another video, that same woman refers to her Asian mother. n=1, but just saying, there are limitation to those tests.
posted by Neekee at 12:00 PM on June 30, 2016

Not directly an answer, but Raquel Cepeda's Bird of Paradise is a great read that touches on these topics:

"In 2009, when Raquel Cepeda almost lost her estranged father to heart disease, she was terrified she’d never know the truth about her ancestry. Every time she looked in the mirror, Cepeda saw a mystery—a tapestry of races and ethnicities that came together in an ambiguous mix. With time running out, she decided to embark on an archaeological dig of sorts by using the science of ancestral DNA testing to excavate everything she could about her genetic history."
posted by ITheCosmos at 1:35 PM on June 30, 2016

For females, 23andme can only provide ancestry data from the maternal line, due to the type of test they run. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by starpoint at 2:41 PM on June 30, 2016

Just wanted to say that 23andMe provides ancestry data for females from both their mother's side and their father's side. However, a female's ancestral haplogroup data is limited to her maternal DNA. Big difference.

23andMe Ancestry picks up correctly on the Slavic from my dad's side and the German and English from my mom's side, in the expected percentages.
posted by erst at 7:47 PM on June 30, 2016

This may be a dumb question but -- there's no information from the adoption agency / orphanage, no possible investigation into heritage that way? Sometimes there are local people who can help as well.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:52 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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