Big Y vs. Other NGS Tests
Liberally adapted from post by Mike Walsh to ISOGG 10/5/2016 under the thread: What happened to Big Y?
The good ideas are his; the bad ones and mistakes are not.
Some have questioned recommendations for testing Family Tree DNA Big Y vs.
tests offered by other vendors such as Full Genomes Corp's Elite. Some
experts hold that other tests are technically superior to Big Y in
covering more ySNPs and ySTRs. They are, in some respects, right but in other
respects may have missed the point.
To explain the reasoning for testing
approaches for the general audience of genetic genealogists, we
should consider that these are specialized DNA tests, in contrast to
DNA tests included in a genetic genealogy offering. These tests are
expensive and on the cutting edge of DNA testing.
includes in its test prices the costs of ongoing customer support: 24x7
project management system, public and private project displays, administrator
not charge annual subscription fees. There is no free lunch so these are part of the offering of what you
get from FTDNA when you order DNA tests from them.
Big Y Advantages
Here are some advantages for Big Y. The combination of these
advantages provides what’s really important.
Of these, the importance of #6 (data management) may be the most
underestimated. I will explain later.
This does NOT mean you should buy tests only from FTDNA. Some testing with specialist vendors
is often advisable.
As you do your testing you want to make sure you end up getting everything
registered in the FTDNA database and projects systems.
Many people do both FGC Elite and Big Y, because they want the advantages of both.
- Big Y provides the largest matching database for Y
genetic genealogy. .
- Database size (absent special sampling procedures) may be the single
biggest determining factor for finding rare phenomenon.
- Big Y is the clear
market-share leader with several thousand Big Y results, just for the R1b
haplogroup. It is ahead of competitors by orders of magnitude.
- Big Y has
reached critical mass and grows of its own volition.
- This is a
database of real people who’ve shown some inclination for spending their
own money on DNA testing -- not anonymous individuals or ancient skeletons,
but living (or recently so) persons. Many are willing to do additional
testing when appropriate.
- The database is enhanced by thousands of internal samples which
FTDNA employs when indicated.
- Lowest absolute entry price (attracting the most genetic
- No ongoing subscription fees to maintain results and/or
- Faster test processing time
- (probably because they do it
- Convenience because of multiple test types (Big Y, STR panels,
SNP Packs, mtDNA, Family Finder, etc.) available based on DNA
samples that are safely stored.
- All these results are under one roof.
- Durable project management platform for sharing and
- That is critical to newbies, future
generations and non-technicians.
- Integrated and backward-compatible data management, the
foundation of a large matching database.
- Old Deep Clade, Advanced
Test SNPs, SNP Packs and Big Y results are all used for haplotree
and haplogroup assignment and project display.
- Think of it as a vast library, holding works from Aristotle to
Hawking. The data management system comes into play when it's necessary to
access pieces of data and relate them to each other.
- Early feeder of your SNPs into a broader set of offerings.
- Discoveries from Big Y tests lead to development of "SNP
Packs", bundles of 100+ SNPs costing about $120.
- Other vendors may not have as much ability to develop these products.
- Excellent track record and prospects as a proven on-going, self-funding
- Since its founding in 2000, FTDNA has led or been quick to adopt advances in DNA testing for genealogy.
This recommendation is for the general genetic genealogy
audience. Most genetic genealogists, who pay for their own tests, are primarily interested in
their own ancestry and only secondarily in scientific advancement. For
them, understanding their own ancestry is the main objective.
The advantages of Big Y for the genetic genealogist do not apply to genetic
scientists, including many "citizen scientists". Big Y -- though it's resulted in many discoveries -- is not designed or
intended for pure scientific research. People who are scientists and true researchers
are not who we are talking to. (They wouldn't listen to amateurs anyway.)
We often add the clause "for genetic genealogy" to clarify this
Other Vendors' Advantages
Fairness requires acknowledging possible advantages of other providers
If you are a scientist, academic or other true
researcher/do-it-yourselfer there are very good reasons to use
specialized tests. A good case example is a situation researching a
royal pedigree (an honest pedigree) going back for
centuries.Those researchers have specific goals, must have all
of the data possible and money is not the object. It's NOT a hobby
for these situations.
- Smaller size: Less bureaucratic rigidity can make other, smaller companies nimbler and quicker
to take advantages of technological advances.
- Less history: Any enterprise's choices are constrained by its previous
choices. FTDNA, having committed to earlier approaches, is
sometimes slower to invest in the latest technology.
- Specific examples: