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What Else Can I Do with My Raw DNA Data?

It wasn’t pretty, but you managed to spit a big gob of saliva into a vial and mail it off to AncestryDNA™, 23andMe, FTDNA or some other DNA collector. After waiting on pins and needles for a month or two, you finally got your results.

Now what? What else can you do with your DNA results?

With AncestryDNA™, 23andMe, FTDNA, and other DNA collectors you get a file known as "raw DNA data" that third-party tools like Gene Heritage can use to tell you even more about yourself.

Why Use Third-Party Raw DNA Tools?

Third-party raw DNA tools use your raw data to:

Some third-party tools charge a small fee (like Gene Heritage or Promethease); others are pretty expensive. Click here for a list of raw DNA tools.

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How Do I Use Raw DNA Data?

How Do I Use Third-Party Raw DNA Tools?

To use a third-party tool, first download your raw DNA data from your DNA collector, then simply upload it to the third-party tool. Some tools only accept raw DNA from one or two DNA collectors; others like Gene Heritage are compatible with raw DNA from multiple sources. Click here to see which tools accept raw DNA transfers from your DNA collector.

How Do I Get My Raw DNA Data?

If you’ve sent in a saliva sample to your DNA collector and received your results, you already have access to your very own raw DNA file. Login to the website of your DNA collector to download it for free. Here are instructions on how to download your raw DNA.

Please read your DNA collector’s Terms of Service and Privacy Statement before downloading; most don’t want you to get mad at them if third-party tools reveal scary information that keeps you up all night.

In all seriousness, some third-party tools make dubious or uninformed claims that could be misleading or cause anxiety. It’s important to keep in mind that there are a whole bunch of other influences on your traits aside from genes, including dietary, microbial, and lifestyle factors. Talk to a health care provider or genetic counselor if you seek professional health care assistance.

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What is Raw DNA Data?

When you mail in your saliva sample to AncestryDNA™ or another DNA collector they use a nifty device called a microarray to map your genome. They don’t look at your entire genetic code, because our genomes are by and large 99.9% the same across all humans (I bet you feel soooo special now). Instead, they focus on the 0.1% of known common genetic variation between us. These variations, also known as markers, or SNPs (“snips”), account for most of the human genetic variations you observe. They account for differences in eye color, skin pigmentation, and many other traits.

“Raw DNA data” sounds like a mouthful but it’s simply a computer file that lists out these SNPs, along with other useful information which we’ll get to later. It’s a text file you can save to your desktop, or double-click to open.

AncestryDNA™ and 23andMe provide raw data in a .txt format (compressed during download as a .zip); FTDNA provides it as a .CSV file (compressed as a .gz).

More about Your Raw DNA Data

While raw DNA data doesn’t contain your entire genome, it does include, oh, just several hundred thousand SNPs. AncestryDNA™’s and FTDNA’s raw data files include about 700,000 markers; 23andMe’s include anywhere from about 600,000 to 1 million markers depending on when you were tested. Here’s an approximate SNP count for the various DNA collectors:

Approx. # SNPs DNA Collector
701,480AncestryDNA v1 (pre-May 2016)
668,940AncestryDNA v2
571,43023andMe v2 (really old)
949,46023andMe v3 (pre-Nov 2013)
552,54023andMe v4 (pre-Sep 2017)
620,29023andMe v5
700,000FamilyTreeDNA (various versions)
720,710MyHeritage v1 & v2
606,130Living DNA v1
536,070Genes for Good v1
178,600Geno 2.0

If I had a dollar for every SNP I have…

DNA collectors only use a very small portion of your DNA to generate their results. The big draw of third-party tools like Gene Heritage is they give you a second chance to mine your unused raw DNA data for even more information about yourself. The difference in SNP counts between DNA collectors explains why coverage may vary with your third-party tool.

Typically all you need to do with your raw DNA data is download it from your DNA collector and upload it to a third-party party tool. But if you want to get in touch with your inner geek by ogling a long list of your single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, open your raw DNA file in a text editor and you’ll see something like this:

This is a screenshot from my very own AncestryDNA™ raw DNA data (please don’t use it to clone me; I’m not that special, trust me). Raw DNA from other collectors looks very similar, typically with five columns corresponding to:

  • Your SNPs (each identified by a code called a rsID number)
  • The chromosomes on which each SNP is located
  • The position of the each SNP on the chromosome
  • Your two alleles for each SNP (one comes from your father, one from your mother). Possible allele letters are A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine), T (thymine), or 0 (for missing data).

In this screenshot, the highlighted line corresponds to a variation influencing my eye color.

From this highlighted line I can see that:

  • The rsID of the SNP is rs12913832
  • The SNP is located on my 15th chromosome (each human has 23 chromosomes)
  • I inherited one A allele from my mother and another A allele from my father.
SNPs are each made of a pair of letters, some combination of A and/or T or C and/or G. Since you get one letter (or allele) from each other parent, the possible combinations are AA, AT, or TT.

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