The National Geographic’s Project Genographic has recently rolled out the second version of its direct-to-consumer DNA test kit, Geno 2.0. This kit is focused heavily on deep ancestry, and is backed by research gold-stamped by National Geographic themselves. The results will detail your deep genetic heritage, starting from the first migrations out of Africa. The results stop at around 1,000 years ago.
The kit relies on a partnership with the genetic testing powerhouse Helix, which provides access to reports and conducts the test in an in-house lab. Helix conducts whole-genome sequencing, and the sample for your Geno 2.0 test can be used to buy reports from a number of other companies.
National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 overview and basic data
|Can be used for||Ancestry Research, Haplotype testing|
|DNA collection||Saliva collection tube|
|Number of SNPs tested||700,000 Autosomal SNPs
20,000 Y-DNA SNPs
4,000 mtDNA SNPs
|DNA sample stored||Yes|
|Platform matching for family||No|
|Geographical analysis of ancestry||Yes, with features for tracing haplotype migrations|
|Special Features||Test a large number of SNPs, and can match to over 450 populations. While you can’t find family matches, you can publish your haplotype results online for others to see.|
|Number of users||Close to 1,000,000|
|Ownership||National Geographic Society, a non-profit organization|
|Address||1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036|
|Client Reviews||Few client reviews online, but generally positive.|
Company background for National Geographic’s Geno 2.0
As a non-profit organization, National Geographic has been around for decades. They support research, and raise funds for that support through a variety of methods, such as their magazine and television shows.
In 2005, National Geographic started a new venture called Genographic, a project to gather and analyze worldwide genetic information. Their first genetic testing kits, simply called Geno, were based on more traditional chip-testing methods. Their new kit, Geno 2.0, uses next-generation sequencing to read your entire genome. This product is offered through a partnership with Helix. Helix is a spin-off company of Illumina, the company which makes SNP chips for most of the largest genetic testing companies.
In addition to giving you information about your deep ancestry, the company will use some of the profits it collects to support grants for genetic research. It also gives researches access to an aggregate pool of genetic data for conducting further ancestry studies.
National Geographic’s Geno 2.0’s Offerings Review
The Genographic project has a single product, Geno 2.0. While the company used to offer tests specific to different locations, this one tests now encompasses all groups. Below is a description of the test, with the various features you receive.
This testing kit is focused on deep ancestry. It provides a number of features detailing your genetic history. The Geno 2.0 test is offered through a partnership with Helix. Helix preforms genetic testing services for a variety of other companies, and provides results via their app and web platforms.
While the test does not test for modern ancestors or family matches, the platform is fairly comprehensive for deeper ancestral connections. The platform includes a number of reports. The Deep Ancestry report analyzes your maternal and paternal haplotypes. A Hominin Ancestry report gives details on your relatedness to Neanderthals and other very early groups. The Regional Ancestry report details your genetic makeup, and which locations your genetics likely hail from.
A unique feature of Geno 2.0 is the Genius Match feature, which describes how you are likely related to historical figures. This and other fun features (like a Neanderthal selfie-camera) are provided by the Helix dashboard. This company does the actual testing, and the results are displayed through their website and app. Though not included in the Geno 2.0 kit, the company does offer a variety of other tests through other partners, and these can be purchased through the platform.
The Genographic project’s kit is typically $99.95, but can be found on sale for $59.95. This is around the average price for ancestry-based tests, though Geno 2.0 does not offer family matching services like some other companies. However, the organization has unearthed some interesting ancestry insights using the data they have received. In purchasing from National Geographic, you are contributing to this legacy of scientific research.
What separates National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 from other companies in that regard?
Where other companies offer various sets of genetic analysis, the National Geographic Geno 2.0 kit focuses on deep ancestry. The results are based on analysis with many reference groups such as international indigenous tribes, which other companies do not have the database to compare to. This gives the Geno 2.0 test a leg up when it comes to deep ancestry, such as haplotype and migration tracking. The results of the test are strictly these subjects.
Like a few other companies, National Geographic has paired with Helix to conduct the Geno 2.0 test. Helix is an interesting platform itself, because it gives users the ability to submit DNA once, and get access to a variety of additional tests. The platform has tests for health, fitness, and even wine pairings based on your genetics. These tests are an additional amount, and can be bought through the Helix platform.
How it works, what will your kit include?
Once you receive your kit in the mail, you must register the kit at Helix.com, the company which will actually be doing the testing and providing the results. Once registered, you simply spit in the collection tube and mail the package back to the company. The kit typically has a short turnaround time, typically in 6-8 weeks.
After that time, you will receive an email inviting you to view your results. Simply log on through the Helix website or app, and you will be able to view a variety of reports. The platform will offer you other services as well, but note that these come at an additional fee.
Understanding the results
The main Ancestry Dashboard will have lead-ins to several different reports. The first is Genius Matches, a feature offered only by National Geographic. This platform will estimate when in the global family tree you separated from famous historical figures. For each historical figure you are matched with, the site will give you information on them and approximately when in human history your families diverged. While this is an interesting feature, it is based on the simple idea that we are all ultimately related. For instance, everyone is related to Abraham Lincoln if you take the family trees all the back to the first members of our species. They claim to be ‘matches’, but these fun tidbits should be taken with a grain of salt.
A second report is the Deep Ancestry report. This report analyzes your haplotypes. If you are a woman, you will see only your maternal haplotype, males get haplotype on both their paternal and maternal lines. These reports estimate which human migrations you were a part of, and describe the conditions facing your ancestors as they migrated. This report will detail your history from 1,000 to 100,000 years ago.
The Regional Ancestry report details your heritage, based on genetics from a number of global regions. Though the regions are fairly vague now, the service will likely become more specific as they garner more users. In this report you will find various percentages relating to populations which contributed to your genetics. This report focuses on genetic differences which arose between 500 and 10,000 years ago. Some people are looking for more recent information than that, such as living family members, which this service will not provide.
The results page will also allow you to share bits of information about your ancestry in a personalized page-long summary, which can be printed or posted on social media. This summary report includes things like how much Neanderthal DNA you have, and what percentages of various region’s DNA you possess. Other reports may be added as the Genographic project gains users and research data.
Will your data be shared?
Unfortunately, this is a bit of a complicated question. The partnership of National Geographic with Helix on this kit has muddled the issue of data privacy. While both companies ensure that none of your personal data will be sold or used in research, they give no guarantees about your aggregate data.
If you read Helix’s Platform Consent, you will notice that Helix aggregates and sells genomic data. This means that while personally identifiable information is not include, Helix reserves the right to research or sell your genetic data. They refer to this as using your genetic information for “business or promotional purposes.” This is a little concerning, as Helix is also one of the few companies conducting whole-genome sequencing. This means they are reading your entire genome, not just the parts related to ancestry information.
Media coverage and user opinions
Though much of the coverage in the media comes from National Geographic themselves, Geno 2.0 has seen a fair shake in the media. There are many reviews out there which are mostly positive, though some reviewers were disappointed in the amount or quality of the information they received. There is also significant coverage of Helix, their partner in Geno 2.0. Helix is set to become a powerhouse of genetic testing as it forms partnerships with a number of companies.
Much of the coverage on the Genographic project centers on the research it funds and conducts in conjunction with researchers around the globe. These stories range from finding genetic evidence of the Inca civilization, to insights into European ancestry.
- Business Insider – I tried National Geographic’s next-generation ancestry test and was surprised by my results
- Business Wire – Helix Launches First Online Consumer Marketplace for DNA-Powered Products That Offer Insights on Ancestry, Entertainment, Family, Fitness, Health, and Nutrition
- Science Daily – Genetics of the modern heirs of the Inkas shed new lights about their origins and lineages
- National Geographic – Ancient Islanders Visited by Columbus Not ‘Extinct,’ Study Finds
- National Geographic – Irish Ancestry Surprises Revealed by New DNA Map
Although there are only 87 reviews on Amazon, and few elsewhere, the Geno 2.0 kit rated about average at 3.3 of 5 stars. However, of that rating over 54% said the platform was 4 or 5 stars. 31% gave the service one star, but many of the reviews are short and do not give insightful information. It seems some users were disappointed by the lack of a family matching feature or more recent timeline, though those features do not seem to be advertised.
Users who are happy with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 mentioned the following points:
- Many users enjoyed the ‘Genius Match’ feature, showing their relation to historical figures.
- The partnership with Helix allows analysis of many non-ancestry traits, with a single sample.
- Gives users the ability to share their deep heritage information through social media.
- Many users reported getting results in less than a month.
- Other interesting features, like a ‘Neanderthal Selfie Tool’ within the app were fun additions.
- Helix does whole-genome sequencing, which will give invaluable insights as science learns more about genetics.
Users giving National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 a 1-star review mentioned the following worthy points:
- Some users claim that while Helix does sequence your whole genome, they charge you for the entire thing.
- Some users wanted a more recent ancestry map, which Genographic does not support.
- Many users criticize the ‘Genius Match’ feature, saying the results are conjecture at best.
Bottom line conclusions for this National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 review
With the pairing of Genographic and Helix, the Geno 2.0 kit provides a powerful tool for studying your deep ancestry that few platforms can match. Entertaining features like Genius Matches keep the information fun, while at the same time offering complex information about deep ancestral groups you belong to. Helix is also one of the only companies to conduct whole-genome sequencing, though access to this information comes at an additional cost. The platform also offers a variety of other tests, through other partners. However, many of these features are available from other DNA testing companies for less, or as a single purchase.