Genetic Genealogy at Public Radio International

PRI’s The World, a weekday radio news magazine, has a new piece by producer Carol Zall entitled “Roots 2.0: Using DNA to Trace My Ancestry.”  The piece makes for a great introduction to genetic genealogy.  I especially like the 35-year-old interview between the young Carol and her grandmother, as well as Carol’s interpretation of her results.

I spoke with Carol a few months about this piece, and she included a few quotes from the interview in the article.  Also included is a 2-minute soundbite of our conversation:

Also featured in the main article are the always-fantastic Daniel MacArthur and Joe Pickrell (you can find both of them at Genomes Unzipped).

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The Legal Genealogist Discusses’s New Autosomal Testing

Over at The Legal Genealogist (one of my favorite new blogs!), blogger Judy Russell, J.D., CG discusses’s new autosomal DNA testing service in “Science and the “10th” cousin.”

As I noted in a recent blog post (see “WDYTYA Reveals More Information About’s New Autosomal DNA Testing“), autosomal DNA testing was featured in the recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are with actor Blair Underwood.  After revealing Mr. Underwood’s biogeographical estimates (74% African American and 26% European), they revealed a genetic cousin found in the’s database:

The service identified a distant cousin (somewhere around the 10th cousin range) who lived in Cameroon (an Eric Sonjowoh). Mr. Sonjowoh was already in the database, which is why they were able to compare him to Mr. Underwood. According to Eric, someone approached him in 2005 and asked him for his DNA because African Americans were trying to trace their family back to Cameroon. I’m not sure what database the DNA was in, but it shows that has pre-populated its database with at least some samples from other public and/or proprietary data sources.

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WDYTYA Reveals More Information About’s New Autosomal DNA Testing

[Update (2/24/12): Some genealogy forums are reporting that callers to are being told that the autosomal DNA test will publicly launch in approximately 1 month (late March or early April).]

Tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured African-American actor Blair Underwood. For those not familiar with Who Do You Think You Are, the 1-hour program examines the genealogy of a celebrity, typically focusing on one or two of their most interesting families.

DNA Testing

This episode was of particular interest to me because it featured’s new autosomal DNA testing service, which I’ve written about before (see “’s Autosomal DNA Product – An Update”). While there wasn’t too much new information about the DNA product in this episode, it was an interesting sneak peek at the service.

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All the Latest in Genetic Genealogy and Personal Genomics

From my Twitter account (blaine_5), here are my tweets from the past few weeks (Feb. 4 – Feb. 20th), most of which are about genetic genealogy and personal genomics:

“Genetics and privacy” at john hawks weblog (@johnhawks) – “‘Privacy advocates’ seem like they’re living in the 1980’s”  Feb 14, 12:19pm via HootSuite

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23andMe is Hiring a Marketing Team

(I almost titled this post as “23andMe Bringing New Blood to Marketing,” but there’s nothing worse than a bad pun!).

Business Insider is reporting (“Sergey Brin’s Wife Is Hiring A Marketing Team For Her Gene Startup“) that 23andMe is looking to increase the marketing of their services.

In an interview with Business Insider, Anne Wojcicki reported that the company is creating a marketing team.  Indeed, I’ve seen at least one marketing position (VP of Marketing) offered by 23andMe in several locations over the past 2 weeks (see here and here, for example).  It looks like it would be a very interesting and fun position.

The article also notes that as of October 2011, the 23andMe database officially had 125,000 subscribers.

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MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA Partner to Offer DNA Testing

As I’ve stated many, many times in the past, the future of genetic genealogy is combining test results with both family trees and paper records.

Today, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA announced a partnership that will bring that future one step closer to reality.  MyHeritage will offer a full line of tests (13 in total) through FTDNA, including these basic introductory tests (with discounts – not shown below – for MyHeritage subscribers):

  • Y-DNA12 (12 Y-STR markers) – $99
  • mtDNA (HVR1 region) – $99
  • Family Finder (autosomal test) – $298

The FAQ page for the tests is here (and I note that although they currently do not allow import of test results from other providers, they plan to in the future).  I wonder if existing FTDNA test-takers can import their results?

Given MyHeritage’s worldwide reach and enormous membership (62 million members around the world!), it will be interesting to see whether this new partnership expands genetic genealogy testing in other parts of the world, which have been slow to try this technology.

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Napoleon Bonaparte’s Y-DNA Haplogroup Belonged to E1b1b1c1* (E-M34)

Researchers have recently discovered that Napoleon Bonaparte’s Y-DNA belongs to haplogroup E1b1b1c1* (M34+).

Dominique Vivant Denon was the director-general of French museums under Napoleon.  Denon made a reliquary (a container for relics) that included the beard of Henry IV, a tooth from Voltair, and a lock of Bonaparte’s hair. [1. B. Foulon, ed., Dominique-Vivant Denon: L’oeil de Napoléon, exh. cat., Paris: Musée du Louvre (Paris, 2000), 480.]  The “Vivant-Denon reliquary” is currently deposited in the Bertrand Museum of Châteauroux, and contains in the “right lateral compartment” a lock of Napoleon’s hair (two of which were used for mtDNA analysis. [2. Lucotte, et al. (2011) Haplogroup of the Y Chromosome of Napoleon the First. J. Mol. Biol. Research, 1:12-19.]  Also in the reliquary is three beard hairs belonging to Napoleon.

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This morning’s Keynote at Rootstech 2012, was from and was entitled “Making the Most of Technology to Further the Family History Industry.”  Although I was unable to attend Rootstech in person this year, I was able to view the keynote online.

During the panel discussion, we heard from Ken Chahine (LinkedIn profile), the Senior Vice President and General Manager, DNA at  From his profile at

Ken Chahine has served as Senior Vice President and General Manager for Ancestry DNA, LLC since 2011. Prior to joining us he held several positions, including as Chief Executive Officer of Avigen, a biotechnology company, in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Utah, and at Parke-Davis Pharmaceuticals (currently Pfizer). Mr. Chahine also teaches a course focused on new venture development, intellectual property, and licensing at the University of Utah’s College of Law. He earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Michigan, a J.D. from the University of Utah College of Law, and a B.A. in Chemistry from Florida State University.

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Does DNA Link 1991 Killing to Colonial-Era Family?

The genetic genealogy world is abuzz following a recent report in news outlets around the world (including CNN, Seattle PI, Daily Mail, etc) that investigators have used public genetic genealogy DNA databases for leads in a 20-year-old cold case.

The Case

In December 1991, 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough was tragically murdered in Federal Way, Washington.  Despite an extensive investigation, no suspect has ever been named.  Investigators have sketches of a man they believe might have been involved, but there is no name to put to the pictures.

Investigators did find some important evidence however: DNA left at the scene, possibly by Yarborough’s attacker.


Late last year, investigators gave the DNA profile (apparently the Y-DNA profile) to California-based forensic consultant Colleen Fitzpatrick (who I’ve written about before here on TGG).  Fitzpatrick, it appears, compared the Y-DNA profile to publicly-available Y-DNA databases, such as Ysearch, in an attempt to identify a potential match for the profile.  After identifying potential matches, Fitzpatrick could then potentially identify the surname of the Y-DNA’s donor.  For example, if all Bettingers have a particular Y-DNA profile and a sample Y-DNA profile closely matches that particular Y-DNA profile, then it is likely that the parties are either closely or distantly related (on a scale of 10s or 1000s of years), and they could potentially have the same surname.

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23andMe Announces 80x Exome Sequencing for $999

Yesterday, at Health 2.0 in San Francisco, 23andMe announced that it will be offering sequencing of exomes with 80x coverage for $999.  At Exome 80x, 23andMe discusses their test:

Your exome is the 50 million DNA bases of your genome containing the information necessary to encode all your proteins. Informally, you can think of the exome as the DNA sequence of your genes.

Your entire genome is made up of your exome plus other DNA, consisting of three billion bases with repetitive sequences, sequences of unknown function, and DNA that does not code for proteins.

Note that the Exome 80x test is only available to current customers, and is determined on a “first come, first served” basis.  Further, test-takers will initially only receive their raw data of 50 million DNA bases at 80x coverage, but 23andMe plans to develop new tools to take advantage of exome sequencing.

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