The Entrepreneurs Behind Family Tree DNA

The “Starting a Business” section of the online bizjournals site has an article called “Riding the Revolution” that reviews the success of the entrepreneurs behind the popular Family Tree DNA (who recently launched a new company called DNATraits).

The company was founded in April 2000 and is led by president Bennett Greenspan and chief operating officer Max Blankfeld. As the article details, the company has grown from $2.6 million in revenue in 2004 to $12.2 million in 2006, an incredibly impressive climb.

Part of the article describes the company’s future directions and challenges:

“The best solution to building an infrastructure is to be proactive, Blankfeld says, in areas such as human resources, technology and research and development. ‘We hired and keep hiring good people, whether for customer service or the lab; we invested in state-of-the-art equipment for the lab and we keep developing new tests that will respond to our customers’ needs,’ he says.”

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Genetic Genealogy and Black History Month


With the popular African American Lives series on PBS and numerous news stories and magazine columns, Black History Month often results in increased attention to the genealogy and genetic history of African Americans. I saw a similar increased interest in genetic genealogy last February as well.

The Multiracial Roots of Americans

Diverse has an article entitled “More Americans Are Discovering Their Multiracial Roots.” The article discusses traditional genealogical research, then mentions genetic genealogy – particularly automosal testing:

“One of the more fascinating developments with the new genealogy is the extent to which DNA testing is revealing the multi-racial ancestry of Americans. While there’s some controversy about the claims of DNA testing firms as to how accurately they can match individuals to ancestors from specific communities and ethnic groups, there’s a consensus that proper testing can roughly specify a person’s relative mix of his or her ancestors’ geographic origins.”

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More Interesting Links From The Genetic Genealogist

TGG3 On the heels of my recent post discussing all the interesting information that’s recently entered the blogosphere about genetic genealogy and DNA studies, here are a few more:

Misha Angrist, one of the Personal Genome Project’s “First 10“, wrote an article about the inevitability of DNA sequencing at News Observer. The article is a response to a recent editorial in the NEJM.

VisiGen Biotechnologies announces that IF their technology works as planned, the $1000 genome is just months or a few years away. See more at Genetics and Health and Next Generation Sequencing. Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) has made a similar announcement.

John Hawk’s Anthropology Weblog, “Viking Ancestry, Surnames and Medieval Genetics” examines a recent study in Molecular Biology and Evolution “investigating whether the Viking influence on surnames in England is mirrored by Y chromosomes.” It’s a great post, especially for genetic genealogists.

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Interesting Links From The Genetic Genealogist

dna-stock_phixr.JPGThere is so much to talk about, and so little time to write. So I thought I’d do a round-up post to bring these interesting stories to your attention. I hope you enjoy the following:

Of great significance to genetic genealogists, the Wall Street Journal says that as many as 1 in 25 children are the result of non-paternal events! The number seems very high, but it is based on a 2005 report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health studying families in “the U.S., Europe, Russia, Canada, South Africa and several other countries.”

SNP studies are coming out left and right. The recent studies have examined variation among genomes from numerous populations using SNP chips that examine 600,000 or more SNPs. See more at GenomeWeb News, The Spittoon, and Genetic Future. A great quote comes from a discussion of one of these SNP studies at the terrific Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog:

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More 23andMe in the News

image Earlier today I posted about the recent updates to the 23andMe service, including an enhanced Gene Journal section and the new Paternal Ancestry.

To get a much more thorough analysis of these new additions, read David P. Hamilton’s “23andMe makes genomics personal — and slick” at VentureBeat: lifesciences. Hamilton’s articles are always insightful and well-written, and I would highly recommend this one, especially if you are considering a personal genomics service.

Interestingly, Hamilton gives 23andMe’s website high marks over deCODEme’s similar service. Hsien-Hsien Lei at Eye on DNA recently highlighted (in a post entitled “Ann Turner on Personal Genomics Companies 23andMe vs deCODEme“) an article written by genetic genealogist Ann Turner for the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list in which she compared the services offered by the two companies. Genetic Future picked up Eye on DNA’s post and wrote “Ann Turner compares 23andMe and deCODEme.”

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Bryan Sykes Interviewed By The UK’s Telegraph

Anyone who is interested in genetic genealogy has likely heard of Professor Bryan Sykes. Sykes is the founder of the genetic genealogy testing company Oxford Ancestors and author of very influential books such as Blood of the Isles, Adam’s Curse, and The Seven Daughters of Eve.

Sykes was recently interviewed by The Telegraph in an article entitled “Curiosity Drives the Gene Genie to a £1m Turnover.The article mentions that Oxford Ancestors, created in 2000, is currently bringing in £ 1m year (USD $1.96million), which is an increase of 10 times its initial year! There is discussion of Sykes’ upbringing, and the difficulty in commercializing scientific research.

Lastly, Sykes discusses some future directions, including using genetic research to help solve crimes:

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GINA – The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) is sponsoring the Save GINA contest. I’ve written about GINA before (see “GINA: A Primer“), which is legislation currently before the Senate the seeks to protect people from discrimination based upon their DNA. The legislation is on hold in the Senate (see my summary here and here).

From the ISOGG contest site:

“GINA is the acronym for “The Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act” a bill that has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and pending a vote in the Senate except that Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has placed a “hold” on the bill to stall it from being voted upon. You can read the politics involved in the following article in Nature:

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Family Tree DNA Launches DNATraits, A New DNA Testing Company


Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld [I apologize for the previous misspelling of Greenspan’s and Blankfeld’s names] of the genetic genealogy testing company Family Tree DNA have launched a new service called DNATraits to examine a customer’s DNA for evidence of genetic disease. According to the website, DNATraits:

“provides direct-to-consumer genetic data from tests conducted on individual DNA samples. DNATraits offers tests that are broader in scope and less expensive than any in the world, complete with a free consultation with our genetic counselors before testing (optional) and a free consultation after testing (required) to discuss your results.”

DNATraits claims that their service is different from other DNA testing companies, as explained in their comparison page. Notably, the process of returning the results to the consumer appears to be different from some other companies: the DNA results are returned to the “DNATraits medical doctor for review and confirmation” before being sent to a genetic counselor. The customer is then emailed and directed to set up a telephone appointment with the genetic counselor. After the consultation, the customer is given direct access to all their test results.

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Genetic Genealogy On The NBC Nightly News

DNA Last week the NBC Nightly News had a three-part special series “Who We Are: The Truth About DNA.

The first video, “Genealogy for Sale” (although it is spelled ‘geneology’!!), is a report from chief science correspondent Robert Bazell. Bazell follows a couple who experience genetic genealogy for the first time. He mentions the use of online websites and databases, including Sorenson and Genetree. In the two minutes of the piece, Bazell does a decent job of highlighting some of the benefits and limitations of genetic genealogy. Just below this video on the main page is a ‘web exclusive’ that continues the couple’s story a bit further.

The second video and third videos are interesting, but are not directly related to genetic genealogy. For anyone that might be interested in more, the Truth About DNA page at MSNBC has a number of interesting links and stories.

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The Palatine DNA Project

iStock_000000516280XSmall DNA Projects, often affiliated with a genetic genealogy testing company, are used to coordinate the testing and result analysis of individuals that have the same surname, originate from a common location, or have a comment set of ancestors. For example, I’ve started the Bettinger DNA Project for individuals with the “Bettinger” surname. An example of a project that hopes to analyze the DNA of a common set of ancestors is the Palantine DNA Project.

From Wikipedia:

“Around 1709, the Rhineland-Palatinate region between what is now known as Germany and France was highly contested by each side. At least 13,000 residents left for Holland and London. The English sent them on to America where close to 300 families, led by the Reverend Joshua Kocherthal and the Reverend Johann Frederick Hager, settled in the Hudson River Valley, most noticeably in Saugerties, New York.”

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