Why Do mtDNA Results Vary? Survey Says….

Diahan Southard

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Your mtDNA results are reported differently by different DNA testing companies. Why? Which results are better?

mtdna test results vary variable accurate IO.pngAs you may already know, mtDNA testing provides genetic information specific to your maternal line: your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, etc. This can be a tempting line of testing to take, since a lot of people have mysteries on their maternal lines. (Why? Well, women’s surnames may have changed with each generation, and old records often didn’t fully identify women.)

When you get mtDNA results from Living DNA or 23andMe, they look different than the full-sequence mtDNA test results you get from Family Tree DNA. Here’s why.

mtDNA from 23andMe or Living DNA

When you take an autosomal test at 23andMe or Living DNA, you’ll get an mtDNA haplogroup result. It links you to an ancient ancestral place of origin for your direct maternal line. Your haplogroup is named with a series of alternating numbers and letters. It looks something like this:

K1a

You can learn from these two letters and a number that your foremothers originated in West Asia between 20,000 and 38,000 years ago. They were among early Neolithic farmers of the Near East and later appeared among early European farmers, as well.

This is a good start, especially considering that you got this little peek at your deep maternal origins from an autosomal test that’s not designed to look specifically at your motherline. They only capture a little bit of mtDNA data from the few of the 16,000 letters in your mitochondrial DNA. But it’s enough to provide you with this high-level mtDNA haplogroup assignment.

Full-sequence mtDNA test results

Then let’s say you take the full-sequence mtDNA test from Family Tree DNA*. This test determines the exact order of those 16,000 letters and thus you get a much longer, more specific result for your maternal haplogroup:

K1a3a3

The first three letters of this assignment should look familiar: K1a. That’s the part that the autosomal tests captured already. But the new alphanumeric sequence you’re seeing is more detailed. It tells you that your deep maternal lineage comes out of the region of Hungary. This more-specific information can help you create a deeper sense of emotional connection to this ancestral place. Your full-sequence mtDNA test will also provide you with DNA matches specific to your maternal line. (You won’t be able to tell how closely they are related to you, just that you share a deep maternal-line origin.)

So that’s why your mtDNA results from your autosomal tests at Living DNA or 23andMe look so different than the full-sequence mtDNA results you can purchase from Family Tree DNA. Those first two aren’t wrong: they’re just less-specific.

mtDNA+2nd edition.png

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.

5 Comments

  1. Leslie

    Thanks for the article. I just ordered this test from FTDNA. I have done an autosomal test at Living DNA, who state my mtDNA as U5b1b1, so I’m wondering if the FTDNA result with match, or improve upon this? I’m English, from London and, according to Living DNA, less than 1% of UK population is this specific haplogroup. If that’s true, then I am astonished. I’ll be doing a YDNA test in due course, hopefully It will improve upon my designated I1a. Thanks again.

    Reply
  2. Barbara

    In my case, the more specific seems to be at 23andMe. At FTDNA, I took the full sequence MtDNA test and got J2b1. At 23andMe, I got J2b1a1. That seems backwards to me, but it’s what is there. Any ideas on this? Thanks for always providing such great info!

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      This IS backwards. Mmmm… I have ideas in how we could explore it. Not sure I could explain it well here. But essentially, there are two mtDNA mutations that define that extra "a1." But one of them is kind of wonky, so I can see how possibly FTDNA did not recognize your full haplogroup, but 23andMe did. INTERESTING.

      Reply
  3. Elizabeth Ann Thomas

    You reference 4 articles above. Where can I find these ?

    Reply

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