Can this DNA test really tell how much Neanderthal is in you?

By Jeremy A. Kaplan (

In May scientists finished mapping the genes of the Neanderthal and determined that as much as 4 percent of those genes are in people today [Neanderthals, Humans Interbred–First Solid DNA Evidence]. Now one company has unveiled a test to determine just how much Neanderthal is inside you. Sort of.

The U.S.$90 kit from DNA Consultants purports to “estimate how much Neanderthal is in your ancestry.” It comes up with a “Neanderthal Index,” which “reports any strong matches you have with populations identified as Archaic, those preserving the earliest earmarks of interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans.”

But prominent anthropologists are horrified, taking strong issue with the test.

“Can you tell I’m disgusted by this?” writes John Hawks, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He noted that the company is perfectly within its rights to sell the kit, since DNA Consultants explains clearly that its product actually doesn’t test your genetics.

“The material makes it perfectly clear that the product does not test any gene variants that scientific research has shown may have come from Neanderthals. Instead, the product reports on gene variants that we don’t know about from Neanderthals. Huh?”

Blaine Bettinger, associate editor for the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, explains the procedure on his site, The Genetic Genealogist. The test does not analyze single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced “snips”), the most common type of genetic variation among people, to look for the 1 to 4 percent of your genome that scientists had determined comes from Neanderthals.

“Instead, it uses CODIS markers to estimate whether a test-taker’s results are likely to be found in ‘archaic populations,’ which themselves are hypothesized to be more likely to possess Neanderthal DNA (i.e., ‘relatively little genetic inflow.’).”

In other words, a company that advertises itself as selling DNA fingerprinting tests isn’t actually selling a Neanderthal DNA fingerprinting test. Bettinger describes the DNA Consultants test as an “incredibly rough probabilistic estimate,” and warns that it’s important to fully understand its many limitations.

Hawks agrees, explaining that “you’d do better putting calipers on your skull” to determine your Neanderthal Index.

“This kind of thing may not be why the FDA is looking to regulate personal genomics,” Hawks notes. “If customers buy tests like this thinking that they are learning about Uncle Thag, just how much misinformation will they accept from other tests that purport to tell them something more important?”

Your ancestor, the caveman slide show >>

Neanderthal Model Is First Replica of Extinct Human Species Based on DNA >>

Jeremy-A-Kaplan.jpg Jeremy A. Kaplan is science and technology editor at A “frequent author and a technology nut,” Jeremy worked previously at Ziff Davis Media, where he was executive editor of PC Magazine, launched several magazines, and co-hosted the Fastest Geek competition. He founded the GoodCleanTech blog, which was nominated for a 2007 Weblog award, a MIN Best of the Web award, and a finalist for a Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award.

Read more of Jeremy’s work on FOXNews/SciTech.


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