What To Do With DNA Raw Data
Updated on March 18, 2024
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What To Do With DNA Raw Data

After taking their DNA tests, some DNA testing companies, such as Ancestry, 23andMe, and LivingDNA, can provide you with your raw DNA file and test results.

Here are some things you can do with that data:

  • Download your DNA files for future use
  • Upload raw DNA data to other DNA services
  • Have your file analyzed by a geneticist
  • Try to interpret the results yourself—though this can be difficult

You can do a lot with your raw DNA data if you can find the channels and tools to interpret them best, whether by yourself or a genetic or healthcare professional.

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What Is Raw DNA Data?

Raw DNA data is often genetic information digitized into computer data.1 It contains your unique order of nucleotides and how this order contributes to who you are.

If you’ve already taken a DNA test, you can access your raw DNA as soon as your results are ready. Here’s a guide on how to download your raw DNA data.

You can download it on your computer, laptop, phone, or tablet. You can save extra copies of your DNA data files on your devices and external storage spaces.

Raw DNA data can often seem like an indistinguishable mix of numbers of letters, but many genetic company websites can interpret this data. Some geneticists familiar with the sequences can also interpret this data and provide you with in-depth information on your genetic traits.

Direct-to-consumer kits allow easy access to one’s unique DNA data, which is challenging to interpret. This is where third-party interpretation services come in.

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What’s Inside Your Raw DNA File?

It depends on the kind of DNA test you take. There are three kinds of raw DNA data:

  • Autosomal DNA
  • Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
  • Y-chromosome DNA (YDNA)

You can expect to see a combination of letters and numbers in your file, which are uniquely arranged based on your genetic makeup.

Raw Autosomal DNA Data

Autosomal DNA will show segments of DNA in both biological sexes. Your autosomal raw DNA file contains all genetic markers you tested positive for, including:

  • Reference SNP cluster IDs — RSIDs are numbers that help geneticists identify a person’s single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).2
  • Chromosome location — A number that tells you whether the SNP you tested for is found on the “forward strand” or “reverse strand” of your chromosome.
  • Chromosome position — A series of numbers showing how far an SNP is along the chromosome.
  • Genotype — Two letters that stand for the two nucleotides containing an SNP. They may appear as the letters A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine), and T (thymine).3

Here is an example of an autosomal DNA sequence: 

rs3931972 | 1 | 742884 | GG 

Raw YDNA & mtDNA Data

Your raw mtDNA will have a list of genes that make up your mitochondrial DNA. A YDNA file will show the genetic variants in your Y chromosome if you’re biologically male.

These files include the common names of genetic markers you test positive for. They are listed first and appear short, with just three alphanumeric characters (e.g., F83).

Common names are followed by the alternative names of the same genes. They appear much longer and contain more numbers and letters (e.g., M1185).

Here’s what YDNA and mtDNA sequences may look like:

F83 | M1185 | PF5861

Only biological men can take the tests that utilize YDNA. This is because only males carry the Y trait in their DNAs. On the other hand, biological women utilize the mtDNA to trace their mother-line ancestry.

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What Format is Raw DNA Data In?

Raw DNA data is usually in a text (.txt) format (sometimes in a zip folder, depending on the size). It’s often a combination of letters and numbers that correlate to key points of your genetic information.

While a geneticist or genetic expert may also be able to interpret this data, they may need additional tools to decode everything.

Why is Raw DNA Data Important?

Raw DNA data is important because it can be interpreted to reveal more about your genetic makeup.

It can contain information about members of your family tree, an ethnicity estimate, any genetic disorders you may be at risk for, and even some interesting data about your physical or personal traits.

Your DNA report can also help you figure out what changes you may want to make to avoid any health risks that may have been passed down your genetic line.

Why Should You Download Raw DNA Data?

You should download your raw DNA data because other DNA sites and testing companies often allow you to upload it, which will save you time since you don’t have to do another test.

Once you have a copy of your raw DNA, you can upload it to other genetic testing companies. This allows you to learn more about your ancestry, heritage, and genetic risks.

You get to save hundreds of dollars, too. It’s cheaper to upload your raw data files than to take several tests to get more information on your DNA, possible DNA matches, potential genetic predispositions, and even health reports and genetic reports (if they’re available).

Alternatively, you can download your raw DNA and delete any data still on the testing website afterward. This can protect genetic information from data breaches, hacking, or being shared with third parties.

Why Should You Protect Your Raw DNA Data?

You want to protect your DNA data because it can be shared with others without consent, used to impersonate you, or worse.

Raw DNA data often includes information about family matches, genetic predispositions, family history, and even medical conditions you may want to keep confidential. You might also just be a private person who prefers not to have their genetic data as public knowledge.

Why Should You Delete Your DNA Data from DNA Testing Websites?

Remember that companies and DNA sites cannot use or distribute your data without explicit consent, but security breaches and hacking can happen. This puts your data at risk.

When you’re done with the company’s website and have collected your reports, make sure you delete your data so that none of it can be used against you.

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Source: 123rf

How to Interpret Raw DNA Data

Chances are, you won’t be able to make much sense of your file after downloading it. But there are three things you can do to read your DNA data.

1. Search DNA Sequence Databases

Some DNA databases can be searched manually using keywords. You can input genetic sequences or search for specific values (e.g., genotype) to learn more about them.4

Genome Browser and Nucleotide are examples of searchable DNA databases. Depending on their available tools, they may or may not let you upload your raw genetic data.

2. Consult A Genetic Professional

You can take your raw DNA file to a medical geneticist. Geneticists can read your data and diagnose any genetic disease or condition you may have.5

Genetic counselors can also read your DNA data. They can counsel you, refer you to support services, and discuss your treatment options.5

A genetic counselor can help you make better decisions about your health and lower your risk of developing hereditary conditions.

3. Upload Your DNA Data File

Some genetic databases and DNA testing services let you upload your raw DNA. They can handle the cross-referencing needed to “read” your raw genetic information.

They might offer a paid or free analysis of your raw data file. You can get different results or results that are more up-to-date or accurate than your first test.

You can upload your results to just one company. However, some people upload their raw results to several sites to get the most comprehensive look into their DNA results.

Why Should You Upload Raw Genetic Data?

Uploading your raw data to third parties helps you learn more about your ethnicity, traits, and health risks. The companies you upload it to can interpret it based on the latest DNA research. 

You also have better chances of finding genetic matches or people with similar DNA. They can connect you to lost family members or potential relatives.

Where Can I Upload Raw DNA data?

People who use AncestryDNA and 23andMe will automatically get this service. If you want to learn more, you can read our Ancestry Review and 23andMe Review.

More companies offer raw DNA analysis services like LivingDNA, MyHeritage, Genomelink, and Lifenome.

LivingDNA

LivingDNA is probably the best example of this.

Depending on your data source, you may be unable to access all their available resources, like Fatherline and Motherline information.

The real power of uploading to LivingDNA is access to their ‘One Family, One World’ project.

This is an effort to make as many connections between humans as possible. Because of this goal, they offer the service for free upon uploading your raw DNA data. You’ll have instant access to DNA connections with suspected relatives in their database.

You’ll also receive ongoing updates if any other matches are made. They offer the option to contribute your data to research, primarily in genealogy.

MyHeritage DNA

MyHeritage DNA offers a similar service. You’ll get at least 2 or 3 different interpretations of the data from your DNA kit. However, ancestry- and heritage-related results replace health-related analysis.

With the rise of at-home genetic testing, an entire industry around the large DNA-kit companies in the field has cropped up. This is still an incredibly new emergence, and caution should be exercised when exploring your options.

Considering there’s no actual handling of DNA on their part, the policies they have in place may not be as stringent as the big players.

Genomelink

Genomelink is more of a novelty than anything, but it is definitely fun. For no additional charge, it allows you access to 25 traits that your genetics may influence.

Additionally, a subscription service gets you a new weekly report with the latest research to back it up.

Lifenome

Lifenome is probably as sophisticated as you can get without consulting a medical professional directly. 

The company combines AI-powered algorithms with research-backed databases to provide you with unparalleled insight into your genes and how they affect your life. However, it has a price tag to match, on par with the initial DNA kit itself.

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Source: 123rf

What Should You Do With DNA Data?

It depends.

First, understand that knowledge doesn’t always mean wellness power. Knowing can be more dangerous than not knowing for some people. It is important to consult with a geneticist to make sense of the DNA results. They also offer guidance on appropriate steps following diagnosis.

But the predictions in DNA data aren’t always 100 percent accurate. Just because you have a parent or a grandparent with a certain disease doesn’t mean it will affect you. Genetic links to disease are not the only risk factors for acquiring them later in life. 

The best thing you can do is evaluate the risk you believe you might have and determine which lifestyle changes will lower your risk.

Next, find a reputable testing company. Genealogists warn that getting your test results from an unreputable company leads to misdirection and offers no valuable information.

Finally, request to delete your raw DNA once you get your results. Here’s a guide on how to delete your raw DNA data.

Most reputable test companies, including Ancestry.com, allow you to do this and provide detailed information on how they store and use DNA test results. This helps you avoid problems with storage and security and prevents companies from sharing your information with third parties.

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Updated on March 18, 2024
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5 sources cited
Updated on March 18, 2024
  1. DNA Data Storage.” President and Fellows of Harvard College.

  2. A Systems Genomics Approach to Uncover Patient-Specific Pathogenic Pathways and Proteins in Ulcerative Colitis.” Nature Communications.

  3. SNP Genotyping.” Wikipedia.

  4. DNA Databases.” International Society of Genetic Genealogy.

  5. Genetic Counseling FAQ.” National Human Genome Research Institute.

Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Ada Sandoval
Ada Sandoval
Content Contributor
Ada Sandoval is a B.S. in Nursing graduate and a registered nurse with a heart for abandoned animals. She works as a content writer who specializes in medical-related articles and pet health.