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How Your DNA Sample is Processed

Many people ask what happens to their sample after it reaches our lab in Houston, TX, US. Our in-house lab handles your sample from start to finish, and we take every measure to ensure the accuracy and privacy of your results as well as the security of your DNA sample. 

Receipt of your DNA Sample

Once we receive your DNA sample at our office: 

  • We will notify you by email at the email address that is associated with your account.
  • Your sample is sent directly to our in-house lab for processing. 

Testing Process

Accessioning

  1. Your kit is opened, and your consent to testing form is scanned. 
  2. The barcodes on your sample vials or pouches (depending on which type of test kit you received) are scanned and marked as received.
  3. One sample is sent to storage in case we are unable to get a viable result from your first sample or if you wish to test further at a future date. 
  4. The other sample is sent to our lab for processing.
    Note: Our testing process in the lab for new samples starts every Wednesday. 

Extraction

  1. Your sample's barcode is scanned again so that it can be organized by test type. This also ensures that each sample is correctly identified with its kit in our system and that the correct testing process is conducted. 
  2. The lysis buffer and DNA sample are mechanically extracted from the tube, and placed in a testing well.*
  3. The lysis buffer bursts the cell membranes, and a chemical called Proteinase K is added. Proteinase K helps break down the proteins inside the cell so that the DNA itself can be separated from other cellular matter.
  4. Some of these proteins (such as histones) protect the DNA from degradation, so from this point on the sample must be kept in cold storage to prevent decay. Our state-of-the-art sample freezer keeps the extracted samples at -20 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. We also have a backup generator so the samples are maintained in the event of power outages.

*If your kit is a dry swab kit, we add lysis buffer to your swabs so that we can extract the DNA> 

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

The extracted DNA is now ready to use in its individual sample well. Using the technique of Polymerase Chain Reaction, we are able to make millions of artificial copies of your DNA. These artificial copies are limited in their shelf life but allow us to do two important things. First, having many copies ensures that we can get reliable, quality reads on more regions of your DNA. Second, we can take only a small portion of the extracted sample while leaving the rest in cold storage for future testing.

We take this small sample portion and amplify it using the PCR technique. This amplified sample then goes to the post-PCR stage.

Test Pipelines

Each test type requires unique lab procedures to get results. Each test goes through a particular “pipeline.” For example, our Family Finder test is run on a microarray chip, while the Big Y and mtFull Sequence tests are run with high throughput Illumina sequencing. These pipelines are run continuously, and the volume in each pipeline at any given time determines the turnaround time for the test results. The lab is optimized so that the test pipelines keep pace with the accessioning, extraction, and other necessary steps.

Analysis

Once the DNA is sequenced through the applicable pipeline, the data is sent for analysis. This massive amount of data is run through our proprietary algorithms to provide information such as population breakdowns and haplogroups. If you have opted in to matching, your data is added to our matching database to provide you with a list of genetic relatives. The algorithms for these results, such as the myOrigins feature of Family Finder, undergo periodic updates. In addition, as our matching database grows, you may continue to find new matches. While your DNA data remains the same, these updates and developments in analysis may result in new insights from time to time.

Once the results of your tests are complete, we will upload them to your FamilyTreeDNA account. We will send you an email to let you know that they are ready. You may then view them by signing in to your account.

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