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The big flaw in Aeromexico’s ‘Mexican DNA’ viral video

Genetic markers don't follow national borders, says expert

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A couple appearing in Aeromexico’s video profess to like burritos, but not Mexico.

That viral Aeromexico commercial has one big problem. There is no such thing as “Mexican DNA.”

The airline Aeromexico poked fun at fears about the U.S.-Mexico border: They gave Americans discounted airfare to Mexico based on how much Mexican blood they have. So if they’re 22 percent Mexican, that’s the size of their discount.

The video was widely praised for shutting down red-state Americans perceived to be racist.

“This is the best airline ad I’ve seen in quite some time,” said Brett Erlich, of the liberal news site The Young Turks.

“Mexican airline trolls Americans with brilliant ad,” was the headline at Mashable.

Can a DNA kit accurately tell you how Mexican you are? Not according to at least one expert.

“It’s an impossibility to really identify anyone’s DNA to be ‘Mexican,’” genetic genealogist Blaine Bettinger of Baldwinsville, N.Y., told BuzzFeed News.

It’s unclear if the ad is a satire and the airline did not return Buzzfeed’s request for comment.

Bettinger said the premise is an extreme oversimplification of what DNA tests can reveal about your heritage.

The ad points out that Mexicans have been migrating to the U.S. since the 1800s, and parts of the U.S. are former Mexican territory, it would figure that people living in the southwest have some Mexican ancestry.

The airline claims it gave out discounts through its travel agencies in the southwest, from Texas to Nevada, and 54 percent of the tests in these states had “Mexican DNA.”

Comedy ensues. One man, upon being told he’s “22 percent Mexican” responds, “That’s bulls—! That’s bulls—!”

But genetic genealogy testing is a lot more complicated than that. DNA-based ancestry companies do a good job of distinguishing between different continents, like Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Africa.

But beyond that, it’s difficult to drill down to specific countries or regions, he said. That’s especially true of the Americas — Mexico as well as the United States, Canada, and Central and South America — because their populations are historically made up of immigrants from all parts of the world. People who live in Mexico could have ancestors from Italy, for example, but that ancestry doesn’t make them any less Mexican.

“Mexico is no less of a melting pot than the United States,” Bettinger said. “There’s no such thing as United States DNA, so why would there be Mexican DNA? It doesn’t make any sense.”

One popular testing service, 23andMe, does not tell customers if a certain percentage of their DNA is Mexican. At most, it can tell someone they fall into the “Native American” category, which encompasses Mexico and more than a dozen other countries.

Ancestry.com’s results are more specific because the company uses both DNA tests and customer-built, record-based family trees to figure out if people fit in up to 350 “DNA regions,” including “Central & Southern Mexico” and “Michoacan & Southern Jalisco.” That means those customers would have genetic similarities to people with family trees from those regions, Bettinger explained.

Aeromexico’s ad did not say which test it used.

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