View Full Version : New paper on the history of BritainsDNA

11-07-2018, 08:57 PM
We were asked to write an article about the BritainsDNA saga and the resulting article has now been published in the peer-reviewed journal Genealogy.

The rise and fall of BritainsDNA: a tale of misleading claims, media manipulation and threats to academic freedom

By Debbie Kennett, Adrian Timpson, David Balding and Mark Thomas.

Abstract Direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry testing is a new and growing industry that has gained widespread media coverage and public interest. Its scientific base is in the fields of population and evolutionary genetics and it has benefitted considerably from recent advances in rapid and cost-effective DNA typing technologies. There is a considerable body of scientific literature on the use of genetic data to make inferences about human population history, although publications on inferring the ancestry of specific individuals are rarer. Population geneticists have questioned the scientific validity of some population history inference approaches, particularly those of a more interpretative nature. These controversies have spilled over into commercial genetic ancestry testing, with some companies making sensational claims about their products. One such company—BritainsDNA—made a number of dubious claims both directly to its customers and in the media. Here we outline our scientific concerns, document the exchanges between us, BritainsDNA and the BBC, and discuss the issues raised about media promotion of commercial enterprises, academic freedom of expression, science and pseudoscience and the genetic ancestry testing industry. We provide a detailed account of this case as a resource for historians and sociologists of science, and to shape public understanding, media reporting and scientific scrutiny of the commercial use of population and evolutionary genetics.

The paper is open access and can be found here:


12-07-2018, 10:08 AM
Debbie, that paper is a very welcome summary of the issues and problems of the topic with the company.
Thank you again for both writing it and posting about it.
I am relieved to read that the provost of UCL had principles, despite the legal advice, for you authors taking risks to discuss the misuse of power and position (by Moffat for commercial advantage) is laudable

12-07-2018, 01:52 PM
Thank you Judith. I just hope that other companies will learn from our experience. The big companies do now seem to be much more responsible in their marketing, though I still have concerns about the way "ethnicity" is marketed.

12-07-2018, 03:14 PM
I share the general dissatisfaction with many outlandish claims that were born or nourished in the marketing strategies of this company. On the other hand, several of us found important, previously unnamed branches of our YDNA haplotrees in data released by Dr. Jim Wilson in about Feb. 2014. One file was called "Chromo2 2000" (anonymized results from about two thousand of their male customers, tested with that proprietary chip); and another identified the position and mutation of known SNPs for which the Chromo2 chip was, or wasn't, looking.

I was running the only public haplogroup project for R1b-DF27 at that time (for FTDNA); and Wilson's data enabled me to order tests (Sanger sequencing) for a half dozen SNPs for which nobody but BritainsDNA had been testing. [The Wilson lab's name for DF27 was S250, and their terminology has been used in many papers, especially those produced in Europe.] Of course the SNP discovery process was beginning in that same period to accelerate very quickly, with NextGen sequencing results becoming available especially from BigY and FGC testing. But when one is building a new tree from the trunk up, one needs all available help; and it should be acknowledged that some very useful, basic structure of the DF27 tree was identified from BritainsDNA data, before it had been detected or named by other labs. I don't know how widely their data were used in building or refining other parts of the Y tree.

In case someone else has shared my curiosity about the former BritainsDNA lab director's later career, here is a place to look: https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/jim-wilson(653f83c2-60ca-4d34-a1b3-b7ba1f7ef86c).html

12-07-2018, 10:28 PM
We do acknowledge in the paper that the Chromo2 was useful for genealogists. However, I had to deal with a lot of the people who'd taken the previous test offered by BritainsDNA which covered around 200 Y-DNA SNPs and 200 mtDNA SNPs at an inflated price. The company even messed up the mtDNA haplogroups and assigned people to the wrong haplogroups. These tests were really expensive (about £200) and sadly some of the people who took that test became very disillusioned with the whole process. The first BritainsDNA test was the one that was being marketed when the company were making their most outlandish claims.

12-08-2018, 05:07 PM
Chromo2 was a revelation to us in M222 showing a fully developed sub-tree of SNPs for the first time. By chance the first results coincided with the first M222 Y Elite results (including my own) and created a golden period for the group after years stumbling around in the STR darkness. We hoped for a Chromo3 but it was never really on the cards and from 2014 onwards you really needed the flexibility of the YSEQ panels which are much more nimble in terms of updates. I got a lot of contacts on my website from people who had entered genetic genealogy via Chromo2 simply by concentating on positives and ignoring all the 'noises off', 99% of which came from the firm's critics rather than the firm itself.

12-08-2018, 05:37 PM
Chromo2 was better for some subclades than others so most people who took that test wouldn't have wasted their money, unlike the previous test. I feel really sorry for the people who paid £170 just to get an mtDNA haplogroup assignment and who couldn't do anything with the results. The company is hardly like to criticise itself. The criticisms related to the marketing and the ridiculous statements made by the company's Managing Director. No one was criticising the Chromo2 test. When it first came out it was the best SNP test on the market but it got overtaken with the development of the next generation sequencing tests.