The African Genetics Project

To enhance its research and enrich its customer experience, 23andMe is launching the  African Genetics Project, Africa_iconrecruiting people who emigrated from, or whose parents emigrated from several specific countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa is the birthplace of all humanity, and its people are the most genetically diverse in all the world, yet our knowledge of that diversity is limited. This newest project follows continuing efforts by 23andMe to enrich our understanding of the human story and increase  diversity in genetic research, while also providing more detailed ancestry results for 23andMe customers with recent African ancestry.

23andMe’s African Genetics Project is offering kits at no cost to people with all four of their grandparents born in the same African country or from the same ethnic or tribal group within one of the following countries — Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Ivory coast, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. The west African countries in that list are a priority for 23andMe because the majority of slaves brought from Africa to the Americas were brought from these African locations. We are also gathering data from individuals with all four grandparents from Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia to aid in identifying ancestry for more recent immigrants and to improve our reference populations for Africa.

This effort is unique in many respects, but primarily because it allows people of African ancestry who know where in Africa their family came from, to help others with African ancestry discover more about their own African roots. The effort may also yield insights into the TransAtlantic slave trade, and migrations within Africa over the last few hundred years.

While the goals of this project are focused primarily on improving ancestry insights, the African Genetics Project is part of a long list of efforts undertaken by 23andMe to improve diversity in research. Some estimates show that more than 90 percent of the research into the genetics underlying disease is on individuals of European descent  alone, but for many conditions an individual’s ethnicity plays an important role and the insights from those studies fall short of helping people of other backgrounds.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of diversity  — historical, cultural, economic and social — but by reaching out and recruiting people from all backgrounds it will also ensure that everyone benefits from advances in genetic science.

Over the last five years, 23andMe has undertaken several initiatives on that front including its Roots Into the Future project to study the genetics of disease impacting African Americans, the first-ever genetic portrait of the United States that mapped the country’s Native American, African and European ancestry, and more recently a NIH-funded project to develop a new way to detect disease causing genetic variants among ethnically mixed populations.

Taken together, these initiatives have helped 23andMe improve diversity in its research. The African Genetics Project is part of that same effort and it will allow 23andMe to identify genetic similarities of people from specific locations in Africa. This in turn will not only improve  what we can tell our customers with African ancestry, but will also aid our research into how people migrated within and from Africa over the last 5,000 years.

Learn more here and enroll today.






  • 77anteater

    Thank you very much, 23andme. This is greatly appreciated. I will do what I can to help spread word of this and I really hope this is successful, more so than the previous African Ancestry Project.

    By chance do you also have a project for Southeast Asians or Middle Easterners?

  • vdjnn kjhndfh

    This should be available to UK residents too.

  • 23blog

    Riseeedown,
    There is no nefarious motive in including Ethiopia and Somalia. While we are primarily focused on the West African countries listed, we wanted to include both Ethiopia and Somalia to capture east African populations which reflect more recent migration. It also allows 23andMe to add more east African populations to its reference data set. Right now we have general regional reference data sets.

    • Janina

      Well perhaps then you should have stated exactly that. To say that Ethiopia and Somalia were among the countries where the majority of American slaves originated from is just not accurate.

      • 23blog

        Janina,
        Yeah you are right. That should have been stated in the post it lumped these two countries with the West African countries that are of interest. We’ll make the correction.

  • 77anteater

    Is it possible that 23andme could offer something like an inexpensive gift card as an incentive to people who meet the criteria in order to create more interest in participation?

    • 23blog

      For participants who qualify for the African Genetics Project the service will be free. Hopefully that’s incentive enough.

      • 77anteater

        The reason why I asked that is because most of the people who are African I talked to (more than 50 people), if they are not suspicious or mistrustful of DNA testing, don’t think that there’s anything worthwhile in it for them, so they don’t care to participate even if the test is free.
        I’ve tried explaining to them about the health traits aspects that would be beneficial to not only them but also to their families, especially their kids, but they still just don’t care. So I wonder if there was an incentive like there was with (if I remember) the Lupus project (If I remember, participants in that project were compensated), some of them might put more consideration into saying “ok I get it, here’s the spit” Not a bribe, but just an incentive aside from just saying that the kit is free.

        • 23blog

          77anteater,
          You bring up a bunch of good points. Right now however we have very specific guidelines for how we will do this research, which is overseen by an independent review board, and those guidelines do not include compensation unfortunately.

  • 23blog

    Riseeedown, We’ve corrected to post. Thanks.

    • Riseeeedown

      ok thanks :)

  • John

    Will the results be reflected on the ancestry composition pie chart for current members with African ancestry? Will we finally get to see the sub-region breakdown just as what’s possible for the European composition? :)

    • 23blog

      John,
      As we add to our reference populations we will update the results that customers get. We’ve done that pretty consistently over the last few years. One goal from this project is to improve the detail on ancestry we can report back to customers with African ancestry.

  • 23blog

    Hi Moses,
    That’s a great question. All our research is overseen by something called an Institutional Review Board. These are outside independent groups that ensure that people who participate in research are treated fairly and ethically. Right now the IRB for this research is only for people living in the US, so that’s why we’re only recruiting individuals living the in US for this project.

  • 23blog

    Thanks Bree. We’re working on it. Joanna, who is leading this research, spent many years in Kenya working and hopefully we will eventually add those populations to the mix.

  • 23blog

    We currently have enough reference data form Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

  • Gutz-Sama

    So does that mean you guys will have a Horn-African/Cushitic classification for Somalis, Djiboutians, Ethiopians and Eritreans? Please do that!

    • 23blog

      Gutz-Sama,
      That’s a great question, and we don’t yet know the answer because we haven’t yet completed our reference panel. We can say will will have more detail, we just don’t know what that detail will include until we finish recruiting.

      • Gutz-Sama

        Thanks for answering,
        There’s a stereotype that Horn-Africans are genetically similar to Bantus who reside in the Great-lakes region were they form the basis of the “East-African” when in fact Horn-Africans/Ethio-Somalis are closer genetically to North-Africans and Coptic/Egyptians. Could you also maybe suggest it to the researchers so they could look it up please? Thanks!

  • Ben Montgomery

    Great and good news. I will share this on my website today.

  • 23blog

    Daniel,
    We will update the project at some point soon. I can say for certain countries we are doing quite well in recruiting, but in others we need to do more work.

  • tsion tibebu

    I received a 23 and me kit from the african genetics project a while ago and my dad spilled the buffer on an accident. I emailed for a new replacement kit but they just told me that I was not eligible for the project even though I had received a kit. Although i never responded back to the email can I still receive a 23 and me kit for free even though Ethiopia is not on the list to be eligible anymore?

    • 23blog

      Tsion,
      That is a very specific question related to our African Genetics Project, and I don’t know the answer. Could you please email the project directly. Africaproject@23andMe.com.

  • Kae

    Since Sudan is listed, why isn’t South Sudan listed? Or, are you grouping Sudan and South Sudan as one country?

Return to top