What is mtDNA?
Mitochondrial DNA, otherwise known as mtDNA, is a special type of DNA found exclusively in the mitochondria of our cells. This DNA is passed down from the maternal line, which means that your mtDNA is the same as your mother’s and her mother’s before her.
Why is mtDNA Important?
Anyone can take an mtDNA test to learn more about their maternal line. Unlike other kinds of DNA, mtDNA is found in the mitochondria, which is floating outside of the nucleus, the center of the cell. Autosomal DNA, which is found inside the nucleus, is combined and recombined repeatedly throughout the generations. Your mtDNA exists outside of that chaotic cycle of recombination. That’s why mtDNA allows us to trace our direct maternal line back hundreds–if not thousands–of years!
Which Testing Company Should I Use?
Three genetic genealogy testing companies offer some level of information about mtDNA: 23andMe, Living DNA and FamilyTreeDNA.
However, 23andMe and Living DNA are autosomal tests that only include a high-level haplogroup. This means that only the most general mtDNA information is included. But it’s better than nothing, so if you’ve tested with either company, be sure to explore your maternal haplogroup information.
For a deep dive into your mtDNA, you’ll need to take the mtDNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, which reveals much more detailed maternal haplogroup information. With your mtDNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, you also receive a list of matches who share your mtDNA profile. This can be helpful to your genealogical research, in that you and your match will know that you’re related on your maternal lines. However, because of how slowly mtDNA changes, it’s not possible to tell how closely you’re related to your mtDNA matches. So there are limitations to mtDNA’s usefulness for genetic genealogy.
How Much Does It Cost?
The cost of an mtDNA test from FamilyTreeDNA is currently $159 USD. A Living DNA autosomal test retails at $79 and an ancestry-only autosomal test from 23andMe is $119. Prices may change, and sales are frequent.