DNA Ancestry Testing In India: It’s More than Just a Fad 

Heard about the ancestry test to know your past? Planning to go for it? Read this before you order the kit. 

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4 min read
Ancestry DNA testing is a trend picking up in India. The quest to understand ones roots is a multi-million dollar industry in the west. (Photo: iStock)

The internet is full of services that claim they can tell you where in the world you came from, which ethnic group is the closest match to your DNA and compare yourself against the famous historical figures. Even search for your long-lost family.

All you need to do is take a DNA ancestry test.

The companies do everything from collecting your DNA samples to getting the final reports delivered. You can either walk into the labs to give your DNA sample or you receive a sophisticated sample collection kit. You need to provide enough saliva and it has to be liquid not bubbles. The tubes come with a buffer solution to keep the sample safe up till six months in varied temperatures and climatic conditions.

Ancestry DNA testing is a trend picking up in India. The quest to understand one’s roots is a multi-million dollar industry in the west. In India, almost every DNA testing lab now offers an ancestry test.

Ancestry test is completely based on the data base. Its accuracy depends on how rich and vast the data is. To trace the migration routes of a person we need to match his/her samples with DNA samples from across the world. Unfortunately, in India we do not have vast DNA databases. So we send our samples to laboratories and DNA testing centres in the west, for accurate results.  
Rajesh Arya, DNA Forensics Laboratory
An actual report that shows results of a persons ancestry test. (Photo: <a href="https://www.dnaforensics.in/">DNA Forensics Laborator</a>y)
An actual report that shows results of a persons ancestry test. (Photo: DNA Forensics Laboratory)

Forty-two-year-old Nagesh Chinappa (name changed) a Bangalorean who opted for the ancestry test through DNA Forensics Laboratory, a centre based in Delhi. Thrilled by the results, he convinced six other friends and family members to undergo the test.

I am a health freak and I have always been interested to know how my genes and family history can affect my health. I discovered my paternal lineage as Haplogroup L1, which is found mostly in central Africa and West Asia. The maternal lineage was found to be Haplogroup M (mtDNA) i.e. people originating from East Africa and migrating to southern coasts of Asia.
A customer from Bengaluru 

Labs claim that the market in India is growing. From two to three queries they have shifted to conducting 30 to 40 actual tests per month. The test costs may vary from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 and what you get in return is a chart with your origin roots designed as a keepsake.

Men can get the tests done for their paternal or maternal lineage but women (since they do not carry Y chromosome) need a sample from a male member of the paternal side to know their paternal lineage.

People are curious to know their lineage. Sometimes there are family disputes that arise. Ancestry tests combined with other DNA tests help people know the truth. Ancestry testing is an in-thing now so lot of young people are interested in it. Corporates are offering these tests to their employees.
Divya Jaiswal, CEO DNA Diagnostics Centre 

But ethical and privacy concerns have emerged as DNA tests move from the scientific domain to a commercial one.

What is worrying is the flow of DNA and genetic material to these countries. Genetic Data theft is not unknown to the world. Many of these labs put the samples in boxes and envelops to courier them to the labs in UK and US. World over the guidelines for sourcing DNA samples are extremely strict, but Indian DNA samples with their unique genetic pool are freely flowing into foreign labs. These can be misused by Pharma companies.”
GV Rao, DNA Expert 

Labs operating in India claim that they are equipped with the most credible certifications and security concerns do not arise.

Labs in India have NABL accreditations (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) that make them credible to conduct tests and export goods to be readily accepted in overseas markets. The information and samples we think can be sensitive are tested in our own labs.
Divya Jaiswal, CEO DNA Diagnostics Centre 
Ancestry DNA tests should ideally be telling the world that the concept of race does not exist.  (Photo: iStock)
Ancestry DNA tests should ideally be telling the world that the concept of race does not exist. (Photo: iStock)

And then there are concerns related to racism. Critics believe that these tests are splitting customers’ ancestral origins into ‘race’, reinforcing the myth that human beings evolved into separate, genetically distinct races, which is not true.

You have to understand that what biologists mean when they say race is different from what the common person or even society means. There are far more genetic differences within a population of humans than between them. World over we have more genes in common than different, but we have not been able to explain this science to the world, that still understands race as a social and cultural term.
Dr. Joseph L. Graves, Evolutionary Bioligist in an interview.

Ancestry DNA tests should ideally be telling the world that the concept of race does not exist. But, in a society like India which is paranoid with caste and race, will the test deepen the existing rifts?

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