What is the best DNA test for Asian ancestry?
If you’re wondering whether you have Asian roots you were unaware of, or already know that you have Asian ancestry but would like to learn more about the specific countries you descend from, taking an Asian ancestry DNA test is the best way to find out. The DNA testing market is more popular than ever, with researchers estimating that the sector is on track to reach $10.04 billion by 2022. However, with dozens of companies ready and waiting to examine your genetic composition, it’s important you choose a service that best caters to Asian genealogy in order to obtain the most accurate results. So, what is the best DNA test for Asian ancestry?
How do you know if you have Asian ancestry?
In reality, ‘Asian’ doesn’t refer to just one ethnicity, as the continent consists of 48 countries spanning five vast regions, and is populated by over 4.4 billion people. This means that identifying as Asian could mean being Chinese, Russian, Burmese, Indian, Sri Lankan or Afghan, along with a number of other possibilities.
DNA testing is by far the most reliable way to tell if you have Asian ancestry, and you don’t even need to leave the house to do so. Simply order a kit, provide a saliva sample or swab, then leave the rest to science. These are some of the different ways your DNA could be tested:
All major DNA testing companies perform genotyping or SNP testing — pronounced as ‘snips’. In this method of DNA testing, samples are compared to a reference genome to look for specific SNPs; variations in our genetic code which affect physical traits like skin colour and hair texture. These are found in our autosomal DNA — the 22 out of 23 chromosome pairs unrelated to sex determination — and as certain variants are more likely to be present in some global populations than others, these can also be used as ancestry markers.
Such variations are able to reveal ancestry from about ten generations back. We inherit 50% of our autosomal DNA from each parent, but this is randomly allocated, and explains why we’re usually not identical to our siblings. This also means that siblings may inherit different ancestry markers from each other, so although an Asian ancestry DNA test could show that your brother is 17% Asian, you could be just 6%.
Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups
Maternal haplogroup testing examines mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) you’ve inherited from your mother. As this type of DNA rarely mutates, it means your direct maternal line could be traced back relatively far. Paternal haplogroup testing looks at the DNA inherited from your father, but this can only be conducted on those born genetically male. This focuses on the Y-chromosome (Y-DNA), the DNA strands passed down from father to son.
These tests have the potential to trace back anywhere from 20-100 generations, but as they are based on parental genetics, these can only trace two lines of a family tree and therefore exclude all other ancestry. For example, if your grandmother on your father’s side is Asian, you won’t share a maternal or paternal haplogroup.
h4. DNA Fingerprinting/STR Testing
STR stands for Short Tandem Repeats — the sections of your DNA that repeat themselves in a unique and identifiable pattern. Companies rarely rely on this method for testing, which is most commonly used to establish familial relationships, and in forensic DNA profiling. Though these markers can identify individuals and their relationships with others, the genetic information itself is not analysed.
Some STRs do belong to global populations, so these tests may reveal a percentage of Asian ancestry, but would not be able to specify any particular country or region.
Which companies conduct DNA tests for Asian ancestry?
DNA databases are based on the genetic analyses of previous clients stored anonymously in the system, which are then used as a basis of comparison for new clients. Therefore, when taking a DNA test, you want to be able to compare your genetics against as many different Asian populations as possible. Here are three major companies with a significant number of Asian genetic signatures in their systems:
23andMe added four more ancestral regions to its East Asia database in 2018, with researchers claiming that this provides the most detailed view to date for customers with East Asian ancestry. The company currently tests against numerous locations spanning 13 Asian regions including South Asia, East Asia, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, China and Southeast Asia. By extracting DNA from a saliva sample which is processed on a genotyping chip, the variants in your genome can be read and analysed in order for a personalised report to be compiled from the results. This service analyses autosomal DNA and also provides maternal and paternal haplogroup maps. Additionally, 23andMe includes a family finder feature called DNA Relatives, which identifies any relatives of a user who has also taken a DNA test with the platform.
23andMe are also taking additional steps via its Global Genetics Project, offering testing kits to people with four grandparents from specific Asian countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Uzbekistan. In doing so, they aim to improve their ability to provide detailed results for customers with non-European ancestry.
With more than 10 million people in their database — said to be the largest DNA pool of all testing kits — AncestryDNA covers areas such as West Asia, Syrian-Lebanese, Philippines, Asia East, Central and South, and Caucasus. The service uses SNP testing to study the whole genome at over 700,000 locations, and claims to be able to map ethnicities going back multiple generations, as well as help identify relationships with unknown relatives through a dynamic list of DNA matches.
This is also a good option for anyone hoping to track down a relative as AncestryDNA has the biggest database, giving users the option to reach out and connect if another family member is found on the platform. However, people of East Asian descent could be disappointed by the small genealogical pool for that region.
MyHeritage also uses microarray-based autosomal DNA testing and can show ancestry origins from among 42 ethnicities, including those within the Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Malaysian, Eskimo/Inuit, and Mongolian regions, among others. If you wish, you can choose to upload raw data from any other genealogy tests you’ve completed in the past, without submitting a new DNA sample.
Another bonus is that, like AncestryDNA, MyHeritage can use your results to find any relatives who have also completed a DNA test, simply by identifying shared genetic sequences that suggest a familial relationship. MyHeritage also welcomes DNA results from other major testing providers in order to widen the pool and make it possible for you discover more relatives.
Unfortunately, the size of its database is relatively small compared to other companies.
What are the limitations of an Asian ancestry DNA test?
Genetics is a relatively new science and has generally been more widely used in the West than the East. As a result, more DNA tests have been completed in Europe than in Asia — despite the fact that Asians make up approximately 40% of the world’s population. This means that many popular ancestry DNA testing companies typically provide the most accurate results for Anglo-Saxon and European lineages, but don’t have enough Asian DNA signatures in their databanks to precisely estimate regional percentages. This is particularly relevant when it comes to isolated Asian territories, as a lack of genetic signatures from these regions inevitably means the final report may not be as specific as you’d like.
Having said that, it is possible to overcome the limitations of Asian ancestry DNA testing if more people take the tests and thereby increase the number of Asian genetic signatures in the databases. This would create more data for future clients to be compared to and results should start to become even more accurate as a result.