Big Changes at DNA.Land

DNA.Land was founded to unite the intellectual power of geneticists from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center with crowdsourced data from genealogists around the world.  It had the dual goal of providing useful tools—like relative matching, ethnicity estimates, and trait reports—to users for free while harnessing large-scale data to advance genetic discoveries.

Yesterday, DNA.Land announced that it is separating from the two academic institutions and restructuring as a commercial enterprise.  The genealogy community will be relieved to know that DNA.Land 2.0 will offer many of the same services, however DNA data currently stored by the academic version of DNA.Land will not be transferred to the commercial version.  The existing data will be deleted on 29 September 2019.  People who want to continue to use the service can upload again starting 1 October 2019.


This Is the Right Thing to Do

As of mid-September, DNA.Land contains over 163,000 genomes.  Having to delete all of them will be a huge set-back for them, and rebuilding the database from scratch will take time.  I admire the DNA.Land team for taking this step.

Here’s why.

Academia has a strong ethical principle guiding human research called “informed consent”.  Human subjects in research projects must be told in accessible language (not legalese) of the potential risks and rewards, and they must explicitly agree to participate.  Such projects are evaluated on an ongoing basis by independent oversight committees called Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to ensure that the methods used are ethical and that risks and benefits to participants are fairly balanced.

DNA.Land has always abided by these principles.  Because DNA.Land 2.0 will no longer be monitored by the same IRB (the Biomedical Research Alliance of New York Institutional Review Board), the DNA data cannot be transferred ethically from the original site to which informed consent was given.


Now What?

If you use DNA.Land, or if you’re interested in trying it, there’s no need to take action yet.  The new format will launch on 1 October 2019.  You’ll be able to recreate an account and upload your data from your original testing site, just like before.  The new site will offer “many of the same services“.

In the meantime, you may want to screenshot your reports there, just in case.  (Thanks to Jennifer Zinck of Ancestor Central for this important reminder.)

As always, I encourage you to read the Terms of Service before you upload to any third-party site.


Updates to This Post

17 Sep 2019—Noted that the data will be deleted on 29 Sep, not 30 Sep as original written.  Thank you to Annie Murray for catching that error.

12 thoughts on “Big Changes at DNA.Land”

  1. DNALand sent me the same announcement as sent to others.

    I am totally confused. I have never had anything to do with them. I certainly never tested there, and I do not know how they acquired my email address.

      1. Yes, you are most probably correct. Otherwise, it would be impossible for me to be on their mailing list.

        Mea Maxima Culpa and Double Duh!

  2. I asked this in a Facebook forum but I’ll ask here as well. I am a little confused about the statement that the genome must be uploaded again once the changeover is complete, in order to abide by ethics standards. My communication from MyHeritage regarding their recent acquisition of Prometheus states that my DNA on Prometheus will be transferred automatically into a new MyHeritage account. These two statements seem to conflict, or is it relative to private vs commercial, or to whichever Board is governing each company?

    1. DNA.Land is a separate entity from Promethease. DNA.Land was previously run as an academic research project, and ethics rules prohibit them repurposing the DNA data to commercial use, so they’re basically starting from scratch with people who explicitly consent to the new format.

      Promethease is presumably a commercial site, although their web page doesn’t have obvious information about the business. Promethease was acquired by MyHeritage, and MyHeritage will be incorporating the Promethease DNA files into their own database. I am trying to find out more from both companies on how this will work.

      1. For those of us who have our dna at Promethease AND MyHeritage already, it seems that MH would then have a double dose of us.

        I responded back to MH to ask them about this, but no answer. My curiosity is that early on, I uploaded my dna to MH from Ancestry AND from 23andMe. It messed up my account AT mh and made it squirrly, so I deleted one of my dna results, and the issue was resolved.

      2. See the MyHeritage Live recorded sessions from a couple weeks ago. I think it was announced either Friday or Saturday morning of the conference and there was a general description of how it would work.

  3. Regarding Caith Culbertson’s reply…
    It is interesting to have duplicates on M.H.
    I initially took a M.H. test. I next took an Ancestry test then thirdly took a FTDNA test.
    I have “ancient” Ashkenazi ancestry. On the M.H. test on M.H. Ashkenazi registered as 1%. The upload of my Ancestry DNA to M.H. registered as 1.5%. I wouldn’t worry about two different tests on M.H. You may learn something new about your DNA.

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