Thanks to self-administered DNA tests, companies like 23andMe and ancestry.com have given people the opportunity to connect with their unknown ancestral backgrounds and long lost relatives. They’ve forever changed the way the common man understands genetics.
But when an investigative journalist provided triplets with those at-home DNA tests, however, the results were anything but expected. In fact, they had some experts crying foul—and others wondering if humanity understood genetics as well as we thought!
The Dahm sisters are indistinguishable from one another. Nicole, Erica, and Jaclyn were born identical triplets in December 1977. As babies, their parents couldn’t tell them apart.
In fact, that’s why each was branded with a unique tattoo at birth: Nicole, born first, was given one dot on her butt; Erica dons two dots for having been born second; and Jaclyn, out third, went tattoo-less.
As the three grew older, they navigated the world of modeling together, the first ever triplets featured in a Playboy Magazine centerfold. Only 21, the world marveled at their physical similarities.
But just how similar were they? Well, triplets occur when a single fertilized zygote splits into three identical portions in the womb. So, the Dahm sisters should be identical down to their DNA…right?
Well in 2017, an investigative reporter at Inside Edition, Lisa Guerrero, below, devised an experiment to find out. She gave the triplets each two home DNA tests.
The DNA tests, supplied from the popular ancestry site 23andMe, worked like this: the triplets surrendered spit, which was then shipped to the parent company. There, professionals extracted DNA cells from the saliva.
Then, 23andMe compared the extracted DNA to the DNA of over 10,000 people with known ancestries. Experts then found the regional source and ancestry of the triplets’ genomes…
Once the samples were analyzed, Lisa discussed the results with Nicole, Erica, and Jaclyn on the set of The Doctors, a daytime talk show hosted by Doctors Travis Stork, Andrew Ordon, Nita Landry, and Sonia Batra.
Before diving into the results, Dr. Stork, left, asked the triplets, “how would you feel if your ancestry was different?” Nicole answered.
“I don’t know how that could happen,” she said. “We’re one egg that split, and we all came out of our mother, so maybe a little different DNA, but we still have the same ancestry, right?”
The first of the two tests, which looked purely at their DNA and not their ancestry, confirmed the obvious: the sisters were indeed triplets. The second test, though, had more surprising results.
Lisa revealed the results of the second test: “Nicole” she said, “you’re 18 percent British and Irish. Erica, you’re 15 percent British and Irish.” But Jaclyn?
Jaclyn, left, was 19 percent British and Irish! Small discrepancies, sure, but discrepancies nonetheless. Still, the test results had further surprises in store for the sisters…
Nicole had about 11 percent French and German ancestry while her sisters had about twice as much; meanwhile, Nicole was 11.4 percent Scandinavian, while her sisters were just 7.4 percent. But how?
The sisters were shocked. After all, they can unlock each others’ phones with their identical fingerprints. But 23andMe responded to the DNA revelation.
Their reports change based on a user’s “confidence levels,” meaning “the lower confidence levels allow you to take a more speculative look at your ancestry breakdown,” a spokesperson said. In other words?
If the triplets submitted their tests with “low confidence levels,” then, “you are going to throw off the comparisons,” the spokesperson said. “Even when [the triplets] did that, there wasn’t that great of a difference.” Case closed?
Back on the set of The Doctors, Lisa pitched a question to Dr. Travis: “we found a few discrepancies,” she said. “What does that say to you? What is your takeaway from these tests?”
Dr. Travis gave the diplomatic answer: “I’m not a geneticist,” he said. “But I love the idea of these at-home tests for fun…we’re not to a place yet where you can just spit in a cup and have every single answer that you’re looking for.”
We can’t know for sure how accurate the triplets’ submitted tests were, but nonetheless, these curious results have left some people thinking hard about genes—and wondering what the sisters’ kid’s ancestry would look like!
When you view the video below, you’ll see more on the Dahm sisters’ intriguing test results, plus another ancestry study of the Pyfrom sisters: they’re quadruplets with a few DNA-based surprises of their own!
You’d think identical triplets would have identical ancestry across the board. Are genetics and ancestries more complicated than we think?
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