Aug 21, 2018 - Ancestry

New African & East Asian Details in 23andMe’s Latest Ancestry Composition Update


23andMe’s Ancestry Composition report is an evolving analysis of your DNA that gets more precise over time. A new update offers more detail for people with African and East Asian ancestry.

The update comes thanks to the contributions of our customers and new sources of publicly available data, such as the 1000 Genomes Project. In addition, 23andMe’s own African Genetics Project has allowed for the addition of more diverse reference populations. This, in turn, enables more detailed Ancestry Composition breakdowns for customers with African or East Asian ancestry.

Sub-Saharan Africa and Senegambian & Guinean Ancestry

23andMe researchers have added nine new ancestral regions to Africa and four more to East Asia, creating the most detailed view for customers with African or East Asian ancestry. The most significant part of this update is the additional granularity for Sub-Saharan Africa. This now includes 13 distinct ancestral populations, said David Poznik, a 23andMe Senior Scientist and Population Geneticist.

“Before this update, our Sub-Saharan Africa region had just three subgroups, belying the tremendous genetic diversity within the continent,” David said. “Humans were diversifying In Africa for hundreds of thousands of years before anyone left to colonize other parts of the world.”

These changes are currently available for customers on the company’s latest genotyping chip version. Our team is working to make this update available for all customers soon.

The addition of these new reference populations follows 23andMe’s update earlier this year, which increased the number of countries and regions included in Ancestry Composition from 31 to 151. The company is constantly striving to help customers access, understand, and benefit from the human genome, and the updates are a step forward in achieving these goals.

Three rich data sources made the updates possible: the African Genetics Project, for which 23andMe provided DNA kits to individuals with four grandparents born in the same African country; customer-supplied information; and the 1000 Genomes Project, a public repository of diverse human sequences.

For 23andMe, this is just the beginning of a series of updates that will increase the number of populations covered by Ancestry Composition over time. “The Global Genetics Project is an ambitious initiative that will fuel future updates,” said Poznik.

“We have a list of around 60 countries that we’ve identified as top priorities,” he said. “These are countries with fairly large populations but that aren’t well-represented in our database. We’re giving away kits to people with ancestries from these countries because we’re eager to collect data that will enable us to improve our product for other people from these regions.”

Let’s take a deeper dive into this newest update

23andMe’s Ancestry Composition report enables our customers to dig into the genetic origins of their ancestors. It allows customers to learn from the DNA that makes them who they are today. 23andMe provides two types of insights that delve into different periods: ancestry composition percentages and recent ancestry locations. Your Ancestry Composition report estimates the percentage of your DNA traces to different regions. We do this by comparing thousands of chunks of DNA across your genome to reference populations, individuals with known ancestry from specific regions. By comparing customer DNA segments with reference data, we can find which matches your DNA most closely. For recent ancestor locations, we look for stretches of DNA you may share identically with other 23andMe customers from particular countries. Together, these insights give customers a more complete view of their ancestry.

Thanks to our customers, particularly those who participated in the African Genetics Project, our researchers were able to begin breaking down African ancestry in more detail. 23andMe can now estimate what percentages of your DNA derive from each of 13 populations across the African continent.

For details about these populations, visit our customer care webpage (Reference populations)

23andMe has also increased granularity in Southeast Asia, distinguishing four new populations: Chinese Dai, Vietnamese, Filipino & Austronesian, and Indonesian, Khmer, Thai & Myanma.

When will my report be updated?

Starting in July, 23andMe began making this update available to customers who were genotyped on the latest version of our genotyping chip (version 5).

Do you have an older version of our chip? Fear not—23andMe is actively working on supporting this update for customers genotyped on older chips. Existing customers will receive notifications on their reports when their results have been recalculated.

Ongoing Research

These new breakdowns were made possible by our customers’ participation in research. In late 2016, 23andMe launched the African Genetics Project to improve diversity in research and provide better ancestry composition results for customers. More than 1,000 individuals participated in the initiative, leading to an influx of new reference data that helped to diversify our research database and has enabled 23andMe to improve results for customers with African ancestry.

23andMe is now undertaking the Global Genetics Project. As part of this effort, 23andMe is reaching out to thousands of individuals with recent heritage from over 60 countries in Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas. Check out the landing page here to learn more.

Our reference panels include data from more than 10,000 people around the world, both from publicly available datasets (the Human Genome Diversity Project and the 1000 Genomes Project) and from many 23andMe customers who have consented to participate in research.

Updated List of Populations in Africa & East Asia

Sub-Saharan Africa


Southern East African

  • Kenya
  • Rwanda

Broadly Congolese & Southern East African

Ethiopian & Eritrean

  • Ethiopia
  • Eritrea



Broadly Northern East African

Senegambian & Guinean

  • Guinea

Coastal West African


Broadly West African

  • Cabo Verde
  • Cameroon

African Hunter-Gatherer

Broadly Sub-Saharan African

East Asia & the Americas


  • Mainland China
  • Taiwan

Chinese Dai


Indonesian, Thai, Khmer & Myanma

  • Indonesia
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Myanmar
  • Malaysia

Filipino & Austronesian

  • Philippines
  • Guam
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Tonga
  • American Samoa
  • Samoa

Broadly, Chinese & Southeast Asian


  • North Korea
  • South Korea


Broadly Korean & Japanese

Native American

  • Argentina
  • Aruba
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Puerto Rico
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela


Manchurian & Mongolian

  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Mongolia

Broadly, North Asian & Native American

Broadly, East Asian & Native American

Endnote: All 23andMe customers will soon receive 23andMe’s Ancestry Composition update, which will include additional regions in Africa and East Asia.

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