As you’re looking through your Genomelink Dashboard at your genetic trait results, you may think, “this one’s spot on” for some, or “that one’s not true” for some others. How could information that is derived from your DNA -- your blueprint for life -- get some traits “right” while getting other traits “wrong?”
Let’s first examine what a Genomelink “result” means.
Your Genomelink result indicates the most likely outcome for the trait in question based solely on your genetics (ie. the raw DNA data file you uploaded from either AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage).
Specifically, from your raw data file, we identify your genotype for each of the SNPs relevant to the trait. We then calculate what your genotype combination should result in as an outcome for that trait.
Of course, intuitively, you know that your traits are not only determined by your genes, but also by the environment. Now that we have a basic understanding of how your results are calculated on Genomelink, read on to find out a list of possible reasons why your results may not reflect what you know to be true about yourself, categorized by whether they’re genetics-related or environment-related.
Factors that may influence how ‘accurate’ your results are
- Genes are not the only influencers of your traits!!
Your traits are not only determined by your genes!
How much your genes influence each trait wildly varies based on the trait. For example, physical appearance traits like hair color, hair texture, and tanning ability tend to be heavily influenced by your DNA. There’s not much you or your environment can do to change those traits.
On the other hand, traits like personality and intelligence traits are highly influenced by a number of factors not related to your DNA, like education, nutrition, lifestyle habits, effort, etc. For example, Cannabis Use (a personality trait), is only 11% genetically determined.
- Reliability of the study
The Genomelink database contains records of the various SNPs that influence each trait we have available. These “findings” -- which SNPs influence which trait and in what way -- are curated from research papers published by research universities and research institutes from around the world. (We try our best to keep this information up to date, even as new research papers are published daily.)
Because of this, your Genomelink results are only as “accurate” as the findings from these research studies.
Here are some factors that may influence the reliability of the research study findings.
- Statistical significance of findings: How confidently can we claim that these findings are ‘true,’ and not due to random variability?
- Sample population size: How many people participated in this study, for how long? Generally, the larger the number of participants, the more reliable the findings tend to be.
- Findings replicated in other studies or not: If another independent research study produces the same finding in a different sample population, then that finding is replicated. Findings that are replicated are more reliable.
- Meta-analysis or not: Meta-analysis studies look at the results of multiple research studies to see if they can draw any findings across the studies. Findings that are sustained in meta-analysis studies tend to be more reliable.
PSA: We label the reliability of every research study on a scale of 1 to 4 stars, 4 stars being the most reliable. Look out for this on each trait page under the ‘Reference’ section.
- Sample population of the study
Researchers usually recruit people of a certain ethnicity for their sample population in the study. Because you are more genetically similar to someone of your own ethnicity, findings drawn from a research study based on people of your own ethnicity tend to apply to you more accurately.
Historically, as most genetics research has been conducted in the US and the EU countries, up to 80% of all research to date have been done on Caucasian or "European" Your Genomelink result indicates the most likely outcome for the trait in question based solely on your genetics (ie. the raw DNA data file you uploaded from either AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage).populations. Fortunately, other countries are catching up quickly, so we can expect more diversity in genetics research going forward. That’ll contribute to a more robust Genomelink and similar services that may be helpful / more accurate for more people!
- We may not have identified all genes that contribute to the trait, and further, how these genes interact and affect each other
Here’s the truth about genetics research: we’ve only just gotten started in the past decade. It’s a very new field, and there’s so much we still don’t know! For every single trait, there may be many SNPs in our DNA influencing it that have yet to be identified. The genome is so complex that this is a realistic possibility.
So as we identify more and more SNPs, we can come up with a more and more accurate estimation of what your DNA truly predisposes you to.
- The raw data file you uploaded may not contain certain SNPs
Each DNA test tests for a different combination of SNPs. So the SNPs contained in a AncestryDNA raw data file is different from the SNPs in a 23andMe raw data file. Depending on the genetic testing company you got your raw data from, you may be missing some SNPs we use to calculate your predisposition for a certain trait.
Listed below are some relevant environmental factors at work. Keep in mind that none of these factors are reflected in your Genomelink results because we’re only showing you what your DNA predisposes you to (and not what your trait actually is in real life)!
Nutrition and exercise fall under this category. Growing up, did you eat nutritious meals, get enough exercise, and socialize with people your age? All these lifestyle habits modify the expression of your genes and influence your personality, academic performance and your psychology.
The good news is, if you didn’t have good lifestyle habits, it’s never too late to start now. By becoming more health conscientious and changing your lifestyle habits, you may be able to positively influence how your genes are expressed.
- Education and opportunities
Children of well-educated parents tend to be well-educated themselves. While there is a genetic component (check your Genomelink results!), the nurture aspect is also very important. For example, even if you have a lower ‘intelligence’ score, if you work hard and go through school -- you will have beat your genetic odds. Conversely, even if you were born ‘smart,’ if you don't work hard to develop your talent, you may never realize your smarts.
Since Genomelink only calculates your trait results from your raw DNA file, it completely ignores the ‘nurture’ aspect of the nature vs. nurture debate.
So your Genomelink results are never meant to predict who you are, but rather, what your DNA predisposes you to.
Why is that important? First, knowing the direction your DNA has set up for you can help you form a stronger identity. Going through the exercise of exploring for each trait whether you ‘followed’ or ‘defied’ your genetic predisposition is a fun and deeply satisfying way to get to know yourself. You can even do this with a family member or friend and discuss with them how ‘spot on’ your DNA predicts who you are!
Genomelink is operated by Awakens, Inc. and is based out of Berkeley, California. Their personal DNA cloud empowers users to discover more about themselves and their identities through an understanding of their raw DNA data.