Friday, February 21, 2014

Do It Now: Lessons Learned in DNA Sample Collection

In the past few months I've encountered some challenges in DNA sample collection and storage. So I thought I'd share what I've learned.

At the FGS conference, I heard the message to test the oldest generation, test as soon as possible, and test as much as you can afford. That message was certainly reinforced to me recently.

A Quality or Storage Problem

First, I encountered problems with my own stored DNA sample. It was collected by me, using what now is an FTDNA test kit of two cheek swabs. I submitted that sample in early 2005 as part of the National Geographic Genographic project. In August of 2013, I ordered an upgrade from the original mtDNA analysis to a full sequence.  FTDNA had my samples in storage, so I wouldn't even need to take another test.

But there was a problem -- they couldn't extract enough DNA from those 8-year-old sample(s) they had in storage. I'll never know the exact reason they couldn't proceed. Perhaps the sample was lost or degraded or perhaps I just didn't gather enough DNA. I received a new test kit in late January asking that I repeat the test. 

What if I had died before that new kit came? Or what if one of my descendants ordered a test after my death? I'm so glad I was alive and able to do the retest. Now I've personally taken care of the need to do as much as I can as soon as I can.

Testing Challenges for an Older Person

Testing the oldest generation was the other missing step that I tackled. I talked to my Dad and he agreed to do the FTDNA test. In September, I ordered $300 worth of tests on his DNA. He's in his 80s and his health is failing. His hearing is bad, he had cataracts (now removed) and he is getting senile. I asked his wife, who has her own health issues, to help with the test. 

The kit sat in their home for months as I kept my fingers crossed that he would do it before his time ran out. And I am definitely guilty of nagging a bit. At Christmas, my brother, who lives three hours from them, visited and helped my Dad with the sampling and return mailing. He called me to ask about the release form, which I had not even considered. I guided him through it over the phone. He didn't mention postage, but since I had to put stamps on my own kit, I imagine he also had to pay postage.

The lesson I received from this is to make sure you have commitment from your elder family members and their caregivers. Review any forms they will need to fill out and be ready to advise them about those forms. Send or give them stamps to pay the postage (right now it's about $2.10 for FTDNA). If you have any concern about their ability to follow through, either go yourself to assist with the sample or find a nearby relative that is willing and able to give that assistance.

Why the Oldest Generation?

The results of my Dad's test put a new spin on my own matches. That's another post.

While making Valentine Day's cards, I created a visual about why the oldest generation is so important to our DNA matching.

Assume that red card at the top is the total of my Dad's DNA. I inherit 50% of it, give or take. My daughter gets half of my half and her daughter gets only half of that. The smallest heart represents the amount of my Dad's DNA that is carried in his great-granddaughter. It's actually about 1/8th, give or take a few percent.

The ability to find useful matches diminishes so quickly across just a few generations. I want as much DNA as possible to work with.

Thanks, Dad!

1 comment:

  1. Wish I was into this before my dad passed. I'm glad at least I have one of my brothers done. Thanks for the push