DNA Testing for Asian Ancestry

Jayne Ekins

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DNA testing for people with Asian ancestry is starting to provide more accurate ethnicity results. Here’s what’s been available—and what’s coming—for those with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani and other Asian roots.

DNA Testing Asian Origins Ethnicity IO.pngThere are good things coming in the world of DNA testing for people of Asian descent. But before we look at developments on the horizon, let’s look at where we’ve been.

Take a look at this Amazon review from 2018 written by an AncestryDNA customer who was looking to discover more about his Asian roots:

DNA testing Asian ethnicity ancestry negative Amazon review.png

That’s rough. Let’s take a look at the report:

DNA testing Asian ethnicity ancestry map AncestryDNA.png

It’s easy to see the client’s point. He was already well aware that he was Asian, so this is absent any added value. He probably should have used the money to buy a new pair of shoes instead.

DNA testing for Asian ancestry

Map source: Wikimedia Commons.

Map source: Wikimedia Commons.

The good news is, things are getting better for people of Asian descent who want to use DNA to learn more about their ethnicity.

More than 2 billion people live in East Asia, an area that includes Siberia and Mongolia in the north, through China, Korea and Japan, and curving around south to the nations of Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. And the story is similar for people with South and Central Asian ancestry coming from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and surrounding areas, the home to 20% of the world’s population. Established industry leaders are ramping up their database representation for these areas of the world, and there are new companies in the global market that are also tapping into this large under-served niche.

Much of the development of ancestry genetics has been piloted with European DNA. Asian populations are deeply diverse and numerous, accounting for more worldwide genetic diversity than all of Europe put together. A study published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature reported findings from over 1,700 Asian individuals with whole genome sequence data, demonstrating at least 10 deep lineages that produced the various ancient Asian populations—with the equivalent of just one for all of Europe. Together with increasing public demand for access to genetic tools in Asia, many indicators point to over-ripe conditions for developing more effective products for Asian populations.

23andMe: South and Central Asian Ancestry

23andMe has made big improvements in their ability to provide more granular ethnicity breakdowns for individuals from South and Central Asia. Previously, clients from these areas received an ancestry composition report that looked something like this:

DNA testing Asian ethnicity ancestry map 23andMe broadly Asian.png

This isn’t very helpful if you already know that you are a member of this large world population. Updated results based on a new version of South and Central Asian reference panels gives much greater granularity, with the potential to detect membership in seven new subgroups, as shown here:

DNA testing Asian ethnicity ancestry map 23andMe more specific.png

That’s progress. And we can expect to see that this part of the world will gain even greater levels of detail as reference populations are expanded.

23andMe, AncestryDNA: East and Southeast Asian Ancestry

Click on the image to learn about testing with AncestryDNA.

Clients with interest in East Asia can also expect increased granularity with recent version updates from 23andMe, AncestryDNA and other companies. Although there is still much work to be done here, these companies have both recently expanded their reference panels to more specific populations in Southeast Asia: Chinese Dai, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indonesian. Already existing reference populations in Japan, Korea, China, and Mongolia have been shored up with greater numbers in the most recent updates as well. Expanding their reference base in Asian populations continues to be a priority for these established companies, and clients can expect to see results with increasing granularity over time.

In 2021: More progress! Enhanced possibilities are here for those ready to dig into their Asian roots with the release of a significant update from AncestryDNA. Previously only a handful of broad regions were supported, but there’s a lot more to see here now.

AncestryDNA Asian ethnicity communities updates January 2021 map.png

AncestryDNA Asian regions list update 2021.jpg

With the increased detail for Asian regions and genetic communities offered, clients can now query against an updated database that supports dozens of new populations. The genetic communities can be especially revealing, as they reveal specific migratory groups and places with which you and your DNA matches are all associated. Learn more about AncestryDNA ethnicity and genetic communities.

MyHeritage: Asian Ethnicities and Genetic Groups

As of early 2021, MyHeritage now reports the following Asian ethnicities: Central Asian; Chinese and Vietnamese; Filipino, Indonesian and Malay; Inuit; Japanese and Korean; Mizrahi Jewish—Iranian/Iraqi; Mongolian; Nepali; South Asian; Thai and Cambodian; and West Asian. Even more significant, they have identified a significant number of Asian Genetic Groups. MyHeritage’s Genetic Groups are ancestral locations (think migratory groups) that are likely found in your recent heritage in the last 400 years or so, based on your DNA matches. Learn more about MyHeritage Genetic Groups.

MyHeritage Genetic Groups Asian categories.jpg

Learn more about testing with MyHeritage DNA.

Click here to learn more about testing with MyHeritage DNA.

If you’ve been waiting for better Asian representation to enter the consumer genetics market, these updates offer fantastic opportunities for those ready to get their feet wet. We can expect that AncestryDNA, MyHeritage DNA and other testing companies will continue to expand their coverage of the highly diverse populations of Asia.

Family Tree DNA for Asian Ethnicity

In October 2020, Family Tree DNA expanded its ethnicity categories, including an upgrade from 6 to 33 categories in the Asia and Oceania region. These represent significant improvement! Family Tree DNA has a much smaller testing pool than Ancestry, 23andMe or MyHeritage, so your overall chance of finding DNA matches is smaller, but there are other reasons to consider testing with Family Tree DNA.

Why you don’t need to wait to take a DNA test for Asian ethnicities

You might reasonably be thinking, “If things are continuing to improve, maybe I’ll just wait a couple more years before taking a DNA test.” But go ahead and test if you’re ready. For the above testing companies, at least, your ethnicity reports will continue to update automatically as better data is available.

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Other testing companies reporting Asian DNA ethnicities

New opportunities for expanding genetic access to people of Asian descent are also developing with companies that are newcomers to the worldwide market.

Xcode Life allows users to upload raw data from other companies (23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and others), and delivers a re-analyzed report with the ability to detect DNA across 35 populations in Asia, with a special focus within highly diverse India. The details of their reference populations are not readily available, although this may still be an interesting avenue for many. The company also provides many options for health and trait testing, while accounting for South Asian ancestry.

A new free upload service from the company WeGene allows users to bring testing data from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and other companies to have it re-analyzed with a focus on China and other East Asian ethnic groups. Their database currently has <500,000 individuals, but with the strong emphasis on East Asia, this could give interested users more granular information than they can currently get from other established tests.

The Hong Kong based company 23Mofang (I’m directing you to the English translation of the site’s homepage) was established in 2015 and currently has 500,000 users. Consumer genetic testing is an increasingly enormous business in Asia, with projected growth to 50 million users in the next five years, which is much faster than the overall global rate of growth. 23Mofang plans to be a big part of that expansion. Already users are benefiting from more detailed ethnicity reports specific to East Asia, and another popular test result links clients to historically prominent political figures, emperors, and other legends of Chinese history. Trait and health reporting also figure in to this company’s offerings, all predicted within a lens specific to East Asia genetics.

Despite being thus far under-served and under-represented in the DNA testing world, clients of Asian descent can expect many improvements. Between already established companies with initiatives underway to expand their reference populations, and international start-ups serving specific target populations, clients have increasing options to investigate their Asian lineages. Hooray for increasing options!

Understanding DNA Ethnicity Test Results 11.pngLearn more about DNA ethnicity

From “pie chart” percentages to deep ancestry and haplogroups, it’s exciting to explore your ancestral ethnicity. But there’s a learning curve. Deep ancestry? Haplogroups? And what about those ethnicity reports that keep changing?? We’ve got answers.

Explore FAQs about DNA Ethnicity

Take Your DNA Discoveries to the Next Level

DNA testing is exciting, but sometimes you need help understanding your results–and not just your ethnicity. Here at Your DNA Guide, we teach you how to connect with relatives who have tested and build your family tree. Let us be YOUR guide to DNA discovery: just sign up for our free monthly email newsletter for regular tips and inspiration on connecting with your roots.

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/jayne-ekins" target="_self">Jayne Ekins</a>

Jayne Ekins

Jayne has been in the field of genetic genealogy since its beginnings as part of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. She has lectured throughout the United States and international venues on the applications of molecular biology to elucidating ancient and recent genealogical connections. She has authored and co-authored many peer-reviewed scientific publications, as well as general articles on genetic genealogy. It is a pleasure for her to see the accelerating developments in genetic genealogy, and the wide accessibility and application it has for the average human curious about their origins.

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13 Comments

  1. He Ai wu

    I’m fully Chinese but it says I’m fully japanese. The only thing I have Japanese relation to is my great grandmother . She was born in Japan to Chinese parents .

    Reply
      • KS

        Hi, thanks for the article! CircleDNA told me that I am 85% Chinese and 15% Japanese/Korean, and I really hope to know more. In my case, which one will you further recommend? Thanks!

        Reply
        • Danielle Francis

          Hi! We recommend testing with either Ancestry or 23andMe first because those are the only two of the major testing companies that do not allow DNA results to be trasnferred in. Once you test with one of those companies, you can upload your DNA to the other major testing companies, like FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and LivingDNA. This process gives you the most bang for your buck when it comes to DNA testing!

          Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      I apologize I didn’t see this comment earlier. Which company did you test at?

      Reply
  2. Toula Moua-Eccles

    I guess I will wait until there are more samples to draw from.

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      You can wait, but remember if you test now, you are included in future updates, so your results will improve over time.

      Reply
  3. sCC

    keep trying to upload raw data from 23andme to Wegene to no avail. DNA wheel runs for some minutes only to stop and repeat the message "Please upload your data as downloaded from your provider”.

    I have tried to upload both as zip and .txt. Any suggestions?

    Reply
  4. Olene Thy

    I don’t unremarkably comment but I gotta state regards for the post on this perfect one : D.

    Reply
  5. Sunni Lawin

    Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

    Reply
  6. Rochelle Amoroso

    In really interested in doing DNa ancestry and would like your input to see which should I go with. I’m 100% filipino, born and raised there but immigrated to the US. I know for sure i have Spanish dna (paternal great great grandpa 100% spaniard) and chinese dna (paternal great great grandma 100% chinese). Not too sure about my maternal lineage except filipino.

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      You will likely not find too many close matches no matter where you test as most of your matches will likely come from others like you who have immigrated to the US. The cheapest route is to test first at Ancestry and then transfer to MyHeritage DNA and pay the $29 unlock fee. That gets you into two databases.

      Reply

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