Friday, 21 July 2017

Britain'sDNA - A Thing of the Past!

EWAN LAMB reports on the end of a colourful genetic journey

A clutch of ancestral DNA testing businesses set up in the Scottish Borders seven years ago and which made headline-grabbing claims about present day people's links to Romans, Saxons and Vikings while also attracting strong criticism from academics is to close less than two years after being taken over.

Thousands of individuals around the globe are believed to have had their DNA tested and analysed by The Moffat Partnership, established by Scottish author Alistair Moffat and a number of colleagues. Their clients included sports stars and show business personalities.

Operating under brand names including BritainsDNA, ScotlandsDNA, YorkshiresDNA and others, the partnership quickly attracted widespread interest from the media.

But when test findings were published and publicised in the press and on BBC radio there was an outcry from experts at University College London and beyond.

UCL even created a series of special web pages to challenge and contradict the claims of BritainsDNA. The establishment's staff explained: "The exaggerated claims made misled the public about what is possible from genetic testing. Some of their stories were ludicrous, which undermines the efforts of scientists who are more careful about the degree of uncertainty associated with their findings".

A time line charting the controversial progress of BritainsDNA states that The Moffat Partnership apparently had financial liabilities of £570,000 when it was acquired by Nottingham-based Source Bioscience Ltd in December 2015. BritainsDNA and its stablemates then traded under myDNAglobal, but continued to offer much the same range of tests.

The internet blurb declared: "Born from an innovative project bringing together historical analysis and genetic information from ancestral DNA testing, aims to provide new insights into the genetic origins of the British & Irish and those of British descent. For example, progressive steps have been made in discovering the tremendous diversity of our DNA, from the farthest reaches of Siberia, Africa and Indonesia, to the legacy of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Danes.

"By taking a test you not only begin your own DNA journey, but you also play a valuable role in research into the genetic makeup and origins of a nation. With your help we can at last write a people's history of Britain & Ireland."

But in a no punches pulled critique published in December last year Buzzfeed News science writer Tom Chivers headlined his article: "This DNA Ancestry Company Is Telling Its Customers “Mostly Total Bollocks” About Their Ancestors".

He wrote: "While no one appears to take issue with the actual DNA testing carried out by BritainsDNA, a large amount of what it then goes on to claim about people’s ancestry is misleading, or generic in the sense that the same information is true of lots of people of European descent, in the opinion of scientists contacted by BuzzFeed News.

"Dr Adam Rutherford is a geneticist and the author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, a book published in September which alleges that BritainsDNA makes “meaningless”, “speculative” and “unsupportable” claims. He told BuzzFeed News that the descriptions of ancestors accompanying BritainsDNA’s genetic test reports are “eloquent, but mostly total bollocks”. 

The decision by Source Bioscience to terminate BritainsDNAs activities comes hard on the heels of a major shake up of the company's management with three of the directors who oversaw the takeover of The Moffat Partnership having their appointments terminated before being replaced by a trio of new bosses.

Messages posted on internet forums by employees and former employees of the company alleged - among other things - "The new board fired all the top bosses and some management. The quality employees have been leaving in droves and taking better positions elsewhere."

Another poster wrote: "Lots of crazy things going on at this company. With countless tales of office affairs, back stabbing and incompetence, this company is a made for t.v train wreck."

A recent response from the new Head of Marketing read as follows: " The mentality of 'back-stabbing' as you call it, must change and that can only come from those of us who are left. We all have a responsibility to stop this and work together. The ability to communicate across groups has grown immensely since the top 3 have left and a team work environment must ensue here."  

A recent set of accounts for Source Bioscience showed an overall operating loss for the last financial year although DNA genetic testing formed only a small part of the business.

Nevertheless, the following notice posted on the myDNAglobal website confirmed the service was to be withdrawn:

"Dear Customers, It is with regret that effective from 3rd July 2017 will no longer be accepting new orders. Whilst we have enjoyed offering this individual service it is unfortunately not something we are able to provide going forwards.

"All existing orders will be honoured – if you have recently purchased a test and have yet to return your sample please do so by 31 August 2017 so we can process your results.  Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that samples received after 31 August 2017 will be processed. For those customers who have already received their results these will be available to you via our website until 31 August 2018, after which they will no longer be available."


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