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Cheap genetics?

21 Feb 2013

Here’s a press release from familytreedna.com:

HOUSTON, Feb. 20, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — FamilyTreeDNA.com, the genetic genealogy arm of Gene By Gene, Ltd., is dramatically lowering the price of one of its basic Y-DNA tests to $39, making it the lowest-cost DNA test available on the market, in order to take a major step toward universal access by individuals to their personal genetic data.

By dropping the price of its basic Y-DNA test by 60 percent to $39, Family Tree DNA — the world’s largest processor of Y-DNA and full mitochondrial sequences — is working to eliminate cost as a barrier to individuals introducing themselves to the insights and knowledge to be gained from personal genetic and genomic research…

Well, I’d certainly like to see more Holmeses doing yDNA testing. But I’m not particularly happy about this.

My first problem with this release is that, if you go to the familytreedna page, it describes this as a limited time offer. That’s not mentioned anywhere in the press release.

My main gripe, though, is that the price reduction is only on the 12-marker yDNA test, and that test is, pretty much, useless. Well, not completely so. If you have a paper trail indicating a fairly close male line connection to someone else who’s been tested, a 12-marker test can refute that purported connection if it doesn’t match, or provide some evidence in favor of it if it does. But even then, if the connection’s refuted, then you’d like to know who you do connect to, right? For which you’ll probably need more than 12 markers.

Anyway, that’s not who they’re marketing this test to. They’re aiming it at genealogical novices. “We believe the first step to unearthing your personal and family history is to better understand your DNA,” Bennett Greenspan is quoted as saying. And I think the only better understanding most people will get is the understanding that they need more than 12 markers to draw any really useful conclusions. A match on 12 markers, says familytreedna, means you’re “highly likely to be related within the past 29 generations”. So, sometime in the past 800 years or so?

The base prices of the other yDNA tests hasn’t changed — for example, for members of a surname project, 25 markers is $124… twice as many markers for three times as much money… and 37 markers is $149, and so on. How much will it cost to upgrade the $39 12 maker test to 25 markers? Well, that’s a good question. If that information is available on the familytreedna web site to anyone who hasn’t already done the 12 marker test, I don’t know how to find it. But my recollection is that the upgrade used to be comparable to, but a little more than, the initial cost difference. The 25 marker cost is $50 above what the 12 marker test used to cost, so maybe the upgrade used to be $59 or so. And if it still is, then getting 12 markers at $39 and the upgrade at $59 is cheaper than starting at 25 markers at $124. So that’s good.

Except that it still smacks of bait and switch to lure in new customers with a $39 test, and then have them find out they need to spend another $59 or $84 or $174 (or whatever the upgrade prices are) to get any really useful information. That kind of approach could end up backfiring, generating ill will and disillusionment with DNA testing.

By all means, if you haven’t done yDNA testing and want to do it, you might want to go for the $39 test. You’ll learn a little. But know that you’ll need to spend more to learn more. And starting with the $39 test and upgrading may be the cheaper way to do it. Do contact familytreedna and ask about upgrades first, though; if you can shake that information loose before you open your wallet, you can make the better decision. And join a surname project before ordering any upgrades.

 

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