Autosomal Genetic Testing


Yesterday I posted a link to an article in the UK Guardian, “The genes that build America” in which the author attempted to summarize some of the recent controversial topics in genealogical research, including DNA testing.

For at least one of my readers, the article represented everything that is wrong with DNA testing, specifically the assignment of racial/ethnic percentages based on the results of autosomal testing.

In the past, I’ve tried to be as impartial as possible when discussing autosomal testing. As I’ve learned, however, being impartial can also be unfair and misleading. So, I’ve decided to get a little more personal and share my thoughts about autosomal testing.

In a single sentence, autosomal testing is simply too new and underdeveloped to be of much informative use for genealogists or the average public, at least in its current stage. This statement, I hope, will be completely incorrect in a few years as whole genome sequencing becomes affordable. Assigning percentages (as autosomal tests do) will only work when the entire genome can be sequenced and examined and analyzed. Short of whole genome sequencing (and maybe comprehensive SNP testing – as in millions of SNPs), I don’t believe that autosomal is worth the effort.

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Genetic Genealogy in the Observer

The Observer has an article, “The genes that build America” which is a summary of every popular genetic genealogy new story to appear in the past year.From the story header:

“From the discovery that presidential hopeful Barack Obama is descended from white slave owners to the realisation that the majority of black Americans have European ancestors, a boom in ‘recreational genetics’ is forcing America to redefine its roots. Paul Harris pieces together the DNA jigsaw of what it really means to be born in the USA.”

Thanks to Hsien at EyeonDNA.

Should Genes be Patentable?

Hsien at EyeonDNA has a great post about patenting genes, including a poll and a discussion in the comments.

Dr. Lei links to a recent symposium on the topic at the Genetics & Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins and mentions legislation proposed in February 2007 that would ban the patenting of human genetic material.

I think it would be great if you stopped by and voted, or left your thoughts in the comments. This is a very controversial topic, and it would be very interesting to see how others feel about it!

Genetic Genealogy in Brazil

The BBC has an article about genetic genealogy testing of nine celebrities in Brazil for a project called Afro-Brazilian Roots by the Brazilian Service of the BBC. These lucky individuals received Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal testing, and most were surprised with the large proportion of European genealogy revealed by the tests.

“Brazil has more people with black ancestry than any other nation outside Africa, and its mix of Indians, Africans and Europeans gave rise in the past to the claim that the country was a ‘racial democracy.’ ”

“No one is pure in Brazil. That’s why the country has the face of the future,” said Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., coordinator of a similar project in the U.S.”

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Wireless Healthcare

Wireless Healthcare, a company based in England, recently released a report entitled “Wireless Based Disease Management: Google, Microsoft and IBM in the Healthcare Market.” Naturally, I can’t read this report because it costs almost $400 USD. I noticed it, however, because it addresses the impact of online availability of genomic/genetic testing results. Specifically, the report addresses (at least I believe it does!) the advisability of online advertising displayed alongside health care records.

According to news releases and a blog post:

“Wireless Healthcare forecast patients gaining access to their genetic profile and managing their health using an online patient record, but they expressed doubts about the efficacy of banner advertisements as revenue model for companies that offer such services.”

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James Sorenson, Founder of Sorenson Genomics

There’s a great article in last week’s USA Today about James Sorenson, the billionaire founder of Sorenson Genomics.  It’s a great read, full of information about this interesting visionary.

The only thing I didn’t like was the picture of Mr. Sorenson touching the human femur being tested in the forensic DNA lab – the scientist in me grimaced at the potential contamination!

(Thanks to Hsien for the link!)

Comment on ‘A Lonely Surname’

Earlier this week I posted about my rare surname and the genetic bottleneck my particular branch of the family tree is experiencing. Later that day a visitor stopped by and left their own story (as a comment) relating to family trees and genetic genealogy, and it was so interesting that I thought I’d share it:

“Blaine said:
“You would think that after 193 years there should be hundreds of us, but that’s not how genealogy or genetics works.”

I was shocked when I realized that my brothers are at the end state of our yDNA.
Lorenzo P. (our gr-grandfather)from Italy had three sons. Two “daughtered out.” Our grandfather Agostino had two sons. One son had a son, the other son had two sons. None of those sons have had children. One had died, and the others are no longer married, and not likely to do so again. That is the end of Lorenzo’s line in the US. Perhaps he had brothers in Italy that we have yet to find, and the yDNA line continues.

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DNA IS a Big Deal


Last Thursday, Michael Neill, a noted genealogist and author of, posted an article entitled “Is DNA That Big of a Deal?”

Mr. Neill, who states that he is “tired of all they hype” writes:

“While I admit there are times where DNA analysis can be helpful, in the vast majority of cases DNA does not provide the type of relationship precision we need. Knowing that two people are related “somehow” “somewhere” “an unknown number of generations back” is typically not the kind of information genealogists need.”

He also believes that instead of spending money and effort on genetic genealogy, researchers should be digitizing and preserving records.

I agree with much of what Mr. Neill says – DNA doesn’t always work, DNA isn’t for all genealogists, and genealogists MUST help preserve endangered records.But, unfortunately, paper records don’t hold all the answers.I’ve always believed that genetic genealogy works best when it is combined with traditional genealogical research.Inside each one of my three trillion cells are a few strands of DNA that serve as records of their own – why shouldn’t genealogists get excited when exploring the most personal record they’ll ever find?

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