Fact or Fiction Blog

Having fun with your DNA while keeping it safe

May 12, 2018

Sharing your DNA online can have consequences for you and your relatives. Investigators found the Golden State Killer by using a genealogy website. [Ref]

How do we protect your DNA?

It's important to understand how FBI and police detectives use DNA databases.

To find the Golden State Killer, investigators searched the DNA of the individuals was publicly available. They searched genealogy websites where the DNA was searchable by everyone and anyone.

We don't make your DNA publicly available. Go ahead, look anywhere on our website. You won't be able to find anyone's DNA records-- they're stored behind secure firewalls. In fact, we're more secure than genealogy companies because hypothetically, the police could pretend to be a customer and submit the perpetrator's DNA sample to a genealogy company. With the genealogy results, the police could start investigating based on the ancestry matches. But here at the DNA Fiction, we never provide matches with real people, instead we give you matches to fake people.

Since our results are make-believe and theoretical, the police will never find you or your relatives on our website. The police could get basic physical characteristics like skin, eye, and hair color off this website, but that's too broad to identify you or your relatives. So even if the police submitted DNA to our website, all they'd get is that the DNA is similar to Ramsey Bolton from Game of Thrones, which would be of no help to them at all.

How does DNA for ancestry work for fantasy worlds?

May 11, 2018

How can we take your DNA from DNA testing companies to predict characteristics like intelligence, creativity, and kindness?

You might have taken your DNA test because you were curious about your ancestry or your health. Most DNA tests examine your SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms, pronounced 'Snip'). A SNP can tell you where you come from. It can also reveal if you have disease risks or certain traits.

What is a SNP? DNA is composed of A, C, G, or T's. A SNP is a location in the DNA where there are two possibilities for the DNA. For example a SNP could mean that a C or an A can be found at the location. Because you have inherited DNA from your mother and your father, you can inherit a C or an A from your mother and a C or A from your farther. So your SNP could be a CC, AC, or an AA.

Here is an example of SNP rs1426654, which has 2 possible values, a G or an A.

Credit: HGDP browser

The figure shows that A's are found in Europeans, while G's are found in non-Europeans. Hence, if we looked at your DNA and found 2 A's (AA), we would conclude you're from Europe. But if you're CA or CC, you're likely not from Europe, but maybe from Asia or Africa. This is at a continental level, we need more SNPs to increase ancestry resolution at the country level and family level.

This particular SNP also plays a role in skin pigmentation. People with the A allele have lighter skin color, while people with the G allele have darker skin pigmentation. This SNP explains why Europeans have lighter skin color [Ref].

DNA testing companies can use this SNP to infer what continent you're from (Europe, Asia, Africa, etc.) DNA Fiction can use this SNP to infer your skin color. There is a lot of overlap between DNA testing companies and the DNA Fiction characteristics.

Credit: Thomas Shafee CC BY

The overlap between DNA testing companies and genetic characteristics is because everyone uses the same technology (microarray platforms made by companies Illumina and Affymetrix), and its this technology overlap that we're exploiting. The SNPs used by the DNA testing services are also studies and well-characterized by researchers. SNPs are used in research studies to study disease (cancer, heart disease, diabetes) and traits (height, intelligence, fight-or-flight response).

So as a consequence, when a researcher finds a variant that increases alcoholism or any trait we're interested in, we can include it in our predictions.