Last month for DNA Day, 23andMe took a look back at some of our own milestones, but a few of our customers pointed out a glaring omission from that list – the creation of what is now DNA Relatives.
So we decided to take note of that historical moment for 23andMe and put it into perspective. Back in 2009 we launched the first-of-its-kind direct-to-consumer autosomal DNA service to connect people with both distant and close relatives.
Up until then DNA matching services were mostly to prove or disprove paternity. Standard paternity testing something called Short Tandem Repeat, and each of these markers might have 10-to-20 possible alleles, far short of the almost three-quarters of a million single nucleotide polymorphisms used on 23andMe’s current chip.
A few years after launching the tool, 23andMe published an academic paper in PLoS One describing the nuts and bolts of the innovative method our scientists pioneered. One of the co-authors of the paper and a former 23andMe scientist Mike Macpherson tried to put the service in context.
“DNA Relatives is clearly an incredible service for connecting families, in a way that complements traditional paper-based genealogical research,” said Mike, who is now an assistant professor of biological science at Chapman University. “We’ve enjoyed countless stories of discoveries big and small from the 23andMe Community over the years.”
23andMe’s Relative Finder algorithm, now called DNA Relatives, was a game-changer because it looked at very large segments of shared DNA to calculate the relationship between two people. The algorithm estimated how closely those two were related and then allowed them to remain anonymous or make direct connections.
Since 23andMe launched the tool, we’ve gone from about 30,000 customers to now more than 900,000 exponentially increasing the number of possible matches. Our scientists have improved on that first version of the product, tweaked the algorithm, and added ways to visualize the matches by geography, surnames and even splitting paternal and maternal sides.
23andMe continues to improve on its ancestry tools, which go far beyond just connecting with relatives. But it’s worth taking a moment to see what we pioneered.