04/06/2008 07:18 PM
Seeking Ancestry in DNA Ties Uncovered by Tests - New York Times
Page 1 of 4
April 12, 2006
THE DNA AGE
Seeking Ancestry in DNA Ties Uncovered by Tests
Alan Moldawer's adopted twins, Matt and Andrew, had always thought of themselves as white. But when it
came time for them to apply to college last year, Mr. Moldawer thought it might be worth investigating the
origins of their slightly tan-tinted skin, with a new
kit that he had heard could determine an
individual's genetic ancestry.
The results, designating the boys 9 percent Native American and 11 percent northern African, arrived too
late for the admissions process. But Mr. Moldawer, a business executive in Silver Spring, Md., says they
could be useful in obtaining financial aid.
"Naturally when you're applying to college you're looking at how your genetic status might help you," said
Mr. Moldawer, who knows that the twins' birth parents are white, but has little information about their
extended family. "I have three kids going now, and you can bet that any advantage we can take we will."
Genetic tests, once obscure tools for scientists, have begun to influence everyday lives in many ways. The
tests are reshaping people's sense of themselves — where they came from, why they behave as they do,
what disease might be coming their way.
It may be only natural then that ethnic ancestry tests, one of the first commercial products to emerge from
the genetic revolution, are spurring a thorough exploration of the question, What is in it for me?
Many scientists criticize the ethnic ancestry tests as promising more than they can deliver. The legacy of
an ancestor several generations back may be too diluted to show up. And the tests have a margin of error,
so results showing a small amount of ancestry from one continent may not actually mean someone has
Given the tests' speculative nature, it seems unlikely that colleges, governments and other institutions will
embrace them. But that has not stopped many test-takers from adopting new DNA-based ethnicities —
and a sense of entitlement to the privileges typically reserved for them.
Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some
with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights.
One Christian is using the test to claim Jewish genetic ancestry and to demand Israeli citizenship, and
Americans of every shade are staking a DNA claim to Indian scholarships, health services and casino