Monday, February 19, 2018

LivingDNA Review

LivingDNA are a British DNA company providing an ethnicity report (autosomal DNA) and a Y-DNA haplogroup (if you're male), and mtDNA haplogroup, for $159 (sales as low as $89 are periodic though). It does not include matching with other testers, although the company says this will be coming in the future, for autosomal DNA (I suspect they're trying to build up their database of testers first). They do offer a way to upload your raw data from other companies for free, however, it's well hidden and hard to find on their site (you can access it here), you won't get your results until August 2018, and it's unclear what the results will include.

As a British company, they have focused greatly on British DNA and offer the most breakdown available for this region than any other company at the moment. They also offer the most breakdown for Europe, the Middle East, Native America, and parts of Asia, but they are oddly lacking in any Jewish populations, and their breakdown for Africa and Oceania is fairly average. You can compare their breakdown of populations to other companies here.

But just how accurate are these more specific breakdowns? It's important to remember all DNA ethnicity reports are only an estimate, and in my experience, the more specific the regions are, the more speculative it is. It's difficult to say just how accurate the specifics at LivingDNA are. Of the known locations my British branches have come from, they include: Lancashire, Kent, Scotland, Hertfordshire, Essex, and Suffolk. However, there's probably other locations I don't know about, plus, DNA can go back further than my tree. My LivingDNA results within Great Britain include the
following (also shown on map below):
My regions of Britain and Ireland from LivingDNA
  • South England 8%
  • East Anglia 6.6%
  • Northumbria 6.2%
  • Southeast England 3.8%
  • Central England 3.6%
  • South Central England 2.7%
  • Lincolnshire 2.7%
  • North Yorkshire 2.7%
  • Devon 1.5%
  • Northwest Scotland 1.5%
  • South Wales 1.5%

This is not representative of Lancashire, but it does cover my other known regions, and then some. Unfortunately, Lancashire is my most recent English branch (immigrated in the mid 1800s), so you'd think I'd have more of that than anything, whereas the other areas are from colonial times. Again, it's difficult to say how accurate this may be given that DNA can be more representative of about 1000 years ago, while my tree has only been researched as far back as about a few hundred years. Additionally, given the small percentages, it's entirely possible some of these are just attributed to noise (like a false positive).

What is very consistent with my family tree is that the only result in Ireland I get is actually a part of Northwest Scotland (Scots-Irish). Despite having a couple "Mc's" in my tree, they are all Scots-Irish, not Irish. Also, the total amount of 40.6% in Great Britain & Ireland is very consistent with my known ancestry. I estimate from what I can that my tree is approximately 35% British. Other reviews have been saying that LivingDNA tends to overestimate their total British results, so I was pleasantly surprised to see mine were fairly accurate.

What about the rest of Europe? Here's the results:
  • Europe (South) 30.2%
    • North Italy 17.3%
    • Tuscany 10.4%
    • Aegean 2.5%
  • Europe (North and West) 27.8%
    • Germanic 17.1%
    • Scandinavia 10.6%
  • Europe (East) 1.4% (on "Standard" setting, this is unassigned)
    • East Balkans 1.4%
My Europe South regions from LivingDNA

A total of 30.2% in Southern Europe is somewhat consistent with my tree (I had one Italian grandparent, so 25% on paper), but interestingly it's in almost exact agreement with most other companies. AncestryDNA says 31%, FamilyTreeDNA says 33%, and 23andMe says 29.5%. MyHeritage are the only outliers with 41.6% (which is one of the reasons I feel MyHeritage are the worst for ethnicity). However, looking at LivingDNA's breakdown for it, this is not really consistent with my tree. Most of my Italian branches have been researched back to the 1700s, and they are all from Southern Italy or Sicily, primarily three towns: Monteroduni, Sulmona, and Polizzi Generosa. LivingDNA has my results mainly in upper and mid Italy. You could possibly argue that Monteroduni and Sulmona are right on the boarder of the region they are calling "Tuscany" (the middle portion in pink on the map above/right), but certainly, Polizzi Generosa (Sicily) is not highlighted at all. Granted, the southern tip of Italy is highlighted as a part of the "Aegean" region, but I only get 2.5% in this category. Populations charts (example below) frequently show how North Italy and South Italy are genetically very different, so for my largest results in Italy to be in North Italy when my Italian ancestry is from Southern Italy just doesn't seem right. The entire Italian side of my family are dark haired, dark eyed, with olive toned skin. We are definitely Southern, and that is disappointingly not shown in LivingDNA's results.

Population chart from AncestryDNA - the closer the dots,
the more genetically similar (note the dots for Italy
show two groups, the larger one is northern Italy,
the smaller one is southern Italy,  showing
how genetically different they are)
Next we have a total of 27.8% in North & West Europe, with 17.1% Germanic and 10.6% Scandinavia. This could just be a coincidence, but if not, then a big congratulations is in order to LivingDNA, because they are pretty much the first company to accurately tell my British, Germanic, and Scandinavian DNA apart from one another. Every other company jumps from one extreme to another, or plays it safe by lumping a large portion of my DNA into a "broadly" Northwest European category, unable to break it down further (23andMe). According to my tree, I should be about 25% Germanic (Western Europe) and 12.5% Norwegian (Scandinavian). At other companies, Western Europe ranges from 0% to 17.9%, and Scandinavia ranges from 0% to 12.3%. While the upper ends of these ranges seem on par with LivingDNA, it is always at the expense of the other group (i.e., 12.3% in Scandinavia means 0% in Western Europe). If you're interested, you can see my complete results from all different companies here (although I did not include the sub-regions of Britain, there were too many). It's a shame Germany and Scandinavia can't be broken down further like Great Britain or even Italy are, but hopefully that will change in the future. I'll look forward to seeing how accurate it may be. I also note that LivingDNA was able to accurately tell Germany apart from France, something no other company has even attempted to do.

Lastly, we have the tiny 1.4% East Europe, which they're putting in more specifically in East Balkans (although the map coverage is the same for both). I have no known Eastern European or Balkans ancestry, but it's worth noting that in "Standard" mode, this 1.4% becomes "unassigned". So they are obviously unsure about this, and therefore it's likely just noise.

Similar to 23andMe, LivingDNA provides several levels of speculation or specification for your ethnicity results. There are three modes: Complete, Standard, and Cautious. Complete attempts to identify any "unassigned" DNA found in Standard mode. There was very little difference for me, which is why I used Complete mode here. As I mentioned, there was the 1.4% unassigned which got put in Europe East, and then there was 3% unassigned under Great Britain and Ireland which got put into the 1.5% Devon and 1.5% Northwest Scotland. Cautious mode groups regions more broadly (see below). Within each mode, there is an option to view results on a Global scale, Regional, or Sub-Regional. At Global, I'm 100% European on every mode. This is a little bit contrary to other companies, which often give me at least trace amounts of Middle East, North Africa, or South Asia. 

My results in Cautious mode
In Cautious mode, these are my Regional/Sub-regional results (also shown on map to the right):
  • Great Britain and Ireland 40.6%
    • Southeast England-related ancestry 18.2%
    • North Yorkshire-related ancestry 11.7%
    • East Anglia 6.6%
    • South Wales-related ancestry 1.2%
    • Great Britain and Ireland (unassigned) 3%
  • Northwestern Europe-related ancestry 27.8%
  • Pannonian Cluster-related ancestry 19.8%
  • South Italy-related ancestry 10.4%
  • Europe (unassigned) 1.4%

It's interesting to note that in Cautious mode, there is a 10.4% in "South Italy-related ancestry". It's not a very high amount, but it's interesting that it swapped from North Italy to South Italy for some reason. Meanwhile, my Scandinavian results have strangely disappeared completely. The map above is showing how some areas are found in more than one category. So the grayish blob over Germany is gray because it's in both "Northwestern Europe" and "Pannonian Cluster". Likewise, the brown parts of Britain are brown because they are in both "Great Britain & Ireland" and "Northwestern Europe". These results are more comparable with how other companies group their categories. That doesn't necessarily make it more accurate, just more broad.

My mtDNA haplogroup migration map from LivingDNA
As for the Y and mtDNA haplogroups, I am female so I have no Y haplogroup, and my mtDNA haplogroup is consistent with 23andMe and FTDNA's Full Sequence test: T2b. No revelations there. It includes a written history of the haplogroup, a coverage map, showing countries where your haplogroup is most commonly found, a migration map showing the route your haplogroup took out of Africa, and finally a Phylogenetic tree showing how your haplogroup descends from Mitochondrial Eve (or Y Chromosomal Adam). In comparison, 23andMe only offers the written history, the migration map, and the Phylogenetic tree, no coverage/frequency map. Also noteworthy, while 23andMe and LivingDNA include roughly the same amount of mtDNA raw data (23andMe includes 4,318 mtDNA SNPs, while LivingDNA includes more than 4,000), LivingDNA includes significantly more Y-DNA SNPs (roughly 20,000 to 23andMe's 3,733). Of course, neither of them include mtDNA or Y-DNA matches, so if that's what you're looking for, you'd have to take FTDNA's dedicated tests.

LivingDNA also provides a very detailed, interactive display of your results to share with others. Here's mine. While other companies often provide a similar way of sharing your results, none that I've seen have been quite this detailed or interactive. Does it share too much? LivingDNA also allows you to control what you share by giving you the option to remove elements or widgets.

I was hesitant to test with LivingDNA, given their lack of DNA matching, and the higher price tag, I felt like what you got wasn't worth that much money. Then it was on super sale over Christmas so I decided to take the plunge. I am pleased with the ethnicity report - at regional level, it's been the most accurate for me so far, but the sub-regional results need some work. Particularly if you already know your haplogroups, I wouldn't pay full price for this test, but I do think it's worth exploring, especially if they add DNA matches in the future. 

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