A recent article in the news raises concerns about how our genetic data may be used. It seems that Canadian Immigrations Officials are using DNA submitted to the Family Tree DNA database as part of their evidence in immigration cases. This is clearly bad DNA science.
As a brief review, there are four types of DNA tested at Family Tree DNA: autosomal, mtDNA, X-DNA, and Y-DNA. Everyone gets half of their autosomal DNA from each parent. MtDNA comes from one's mother. X-DNA in men comes from their mother. In women, it comes from both the mother and the father. Y-DNA is only present in men. It comes from their father.
The news paper article reads in part:
A VICE News report on Thursday quoted an immigration lawyer whose client is being investigated by the CBSA using DNA and the ancestry database FamilyTreeDNA.com. In that case, the Canadian authorities were trying to deport a migrant who said he was from Liberia, speculating he was instead from Nigeria based on DNA testing and a linguistics report.
FamilyTreeDNA said in an email that it does not work directly with Canadian law enforcement and has “no knowledge of Canadian law enforcement or its border agency using the FTDNA platform for the purpose of gathering migrant DNA to determine nationality.”
What DNA are they using? It is not clear.
Family Tree DNA tests X-DNA with their Family Finder test. However, they do not use X-DNA in their ethnic origins calculations. X-DNA is out.
It is possible that they used autosomal DNA. Unless though someone has clear recent cousins from a specific country, it is not possible to get an exact country of origin from autosomal DNA. It is possible to support a relationship between a parent and child, a grandparent and child, and even an uncle and a nephew. Without such a relative to match against though, origin predictions are not reliable beyond the continent level.
MtDNA could be used to find a likely deep ancestral population. However, mtDNA matching is to populations that are around 1,000 years ago. That is even with high-resolution tests. Such testing could show that the man's direct maternal line was part of the Bantu expansion. It cannot say that his birthplace was in one country or another. People move. Country boundaries change.
In much the same way, the man's Y-DNA could be used to point to a region of origin or population group. This is true from the most basic Y-STR Y12 test to the most advanced Big Y test. With very few exceptions, you cannot say with Y-DNA where someone was born. This is due to migrations and history in even the past 500 years.
Canada, please stop. Using DNA tests for something they cannot do is not OK. DNA does not match up to modern national borders. Talk with those who know and understand DNA testing. It can do wonderful things and help in many cases. This is not one of them though. This is dark and disturbing.