10/16/18 UPDATE: The Cherokee Nation’s Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. released a statement in the wake of Warren’s test, suggesting it’s useless information. “While DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation,” said Hoskin. “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong.” Read the statement in full here.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced on Twitter early Monday that she recently took a DNA test. According to the results, she has “strong evidence” of Native American ancestry.
The senator made it clear in a video about the results that she took the test in response to political scrutiny about her heritage. The video features political rivals and others mocking Warren’s purported heritage, including President Trump using the nickname “Pocahontas” for her.
My family (including Fox News-watchers) sat together and talked about what they think of @realDonaldTrump’s attacks on our heritage. And yes, a famous geneticist analyzed my DNA and concluded that it contains Native American ancestry. pic.twitter.com/r3SNzP22f8
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) October 15, 2018
The test was performed by Carlos Bustamante, a professor of genetics at Stanford and an adviser to Ancestry and 23andMe. The video shows Warren on a phone call with Bustamante. “Now, the president likes to call my mom a liar,” she says. “What do the facts say?” His response: “The facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native American ancestor in your pedigree.”
Bustamante also created a report based on the test, which is published on Warren’s website. The report states that “the great majority of [Warren’s] identifiable ancestry is European.” However, the report also says that Warren’s DNA “contains Native American ancestry from an ancestor in the sample’s pedigree 6-10 generations ago” along with “the analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence.”
The report also says that Bustamante was not aware of Warren’s identity while performing the test.
Based on the report, it looks like Warren did the test via “saliva or cheek swab,” Stephen Hsu, PhD, vice-president for research and graduate studies at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle
The report gets a little scientific, but it “estimates that as much as a few percent of [Warren’s] ancestry could be Native American, but possibly much less than 1 percent,” Hsu says. Given that a large percent of Warren’s heritage is European and that Europeans and Asians typically have about 2 percent Neanderthal ancestry, she “probably has a larger percentage of DNA from Neanderthals than she does from Native Americans,” Hsu says.
As a whole, DNA tests like the ones that someone would take with Ancestry or 23andMe are “really good and reliable” at finding genetic markers, Victor Weedn, MD, a forensic pathologist at George Washington University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But how well the marker reflects ancestry is a different question.”
“As time goes on, there is genetic mixing among groups,” Weedn explains. “Then there becomes an issue of how tightly associated a marker is with a group. Some are more tightly associated with certain groups than others.”
When a DNA test tells you that your ancestry includes people from certain regions, it’s looking for “genetic segments of DNA that are much more common in a certain population than in others,” Hsu explains. “The frequency of such regions indicates level of ancestry.”
Overall, if you undergo a DNA test, you can assume that the results are pretty accurate. “We can read out an individual’s DNA reliably and inexpensively,” Hsu says. “The DNA sequence obtained is very reliable.”
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