Genetic Genealogy on 60 Minutes


Did you catch the genetic genealogy segment on 60 Minutes last night? I was not able to watch it, unfortunately, but I’ve been following some online reactions. For instance, at Megan’s Roots World (written when the segment was being made), Anglo-Celtic Connections and DNA for Everyone. There’s a great discussion at the DNA-NEWBIE Yahoo Group, and at the GENEALOGY-DNA Rootsweb list.

For those who missed the segment last night, HERE is the full report, with a video and transcript. Note that the journalists interviewed Hank Greely, a law professor at Stanford who I’ve mentioned here before, and who has a great chapter in an upcoming book – Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age, (forthcoming) edited by Barbara Koenig, Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, and Sarah Richardson. Rutgers University Press, 2007.

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Genetic Genealogy News


The DNA Ancestry Blog has a new post about needs and concerns regarding’s DNA project. If you have something insightful or valuable to share, the post lists an email address.

There’s a relatively new Genetic Genealogy blog called Haplogroup I which has some interesting information and news about the field. Welcome to the blogosphere, and I hope to learn more about you and about Haplogroup I!

The big news (ok, not really) in Genetic Genealogy this week is that Ben Affleck is joining the Genographic Project. The Boston Globe has a story here. My favorite part was the ending:

As with any other test, the project did lead to some bragging rights. Ramiro Torres, who hosts a morning show on radio station Jam’n 94.5, was pleased to learn his enterprising relatives trekked across all of Asia before crossing the ice bridge and populating North and South America.

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Genetic Genealogy in the News

Megan Smolenyak at Megan’s Roots World has some great links to recent news about genetic genealogy.  The first post is “Genealogical Round Up“, and the second is “More Genetic Genealogy.”  If you’re interested in GG, stop by.

I also saw a recent story in the IndyStar called “Unearthing Their Roots“, about African Americans using DNA in an attempt to identify their ancestral origin.  Although this exact topic has been very popular in the press this year, this article is more balanced than some.

By the way, I would like to remind everyone that Roots Television is a great resource for anyone who might be interested in genetic genealogy, or genealogy in general.  I especially enjoy seeing interviews and presentations from conferences that I am unable to attend.  It’s a wonderful resource.

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Reconstructing the Worldwide Family Tree

I first saw mention of Mike Elgan’s story, “Coming Soon: The Mother of All Genealogy Databases” at Jasia’s Creative Gene (The Google Family Tree?), and then I saw it at the Genealogue (NothingWill Save Us From Boredom).

In the article, Mr. Elgan imagines an enormous future database that combines traditional genealogical records and DNA to link everyone together.  Two individuals could then, for instance, search the database to find their closest relationship to each other.  My first thought, of course, is of privacy issues and plain old bad genealogical data (of which the internet is full).

The Early Stages of the Genetic Genealogy Revolution – Part II


I’ve spoken before about the enormous effect that affordable SNP and whole-genome sequencing will have on genetic genealogy. In that previous article, I mentioned a study using SNP analysis to identify a person’s ancestry based on autosomal DNA (all the nuclear non-sex DNA). Another study, released today in PLoS Genetics, used SNP chips to identify SNP markers that are characteristic of a certain ancestral origins. According to the authors:

“We have developed a novel algorithm to identify a subset of SNP markers that capture major axes of genetic variation in a genotypic dataset without use of any prior information about individual ancestry or membership in a population.”

To accomplish this, the researchers:

“…studied here 274 individuals from 12 populations (20 Mbuti, 20 Mende, 22 Burunge, 42 African Americans, 42 Caucasians, 20 Spanish, 11 Mala, 20 East Asians, 20 South Altaians, 20 Nahua, 20 Quechua, and 19 Puerto Ricans). Three of these populations are admixed (Caucasians, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans). All individuals were typed using the 10K Affymetrix array.”

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DNA to the Genealogical Rescue, Again

In today’s Washington Post there’s a story about The Boy in the Iron Coffin.This coffin was accidentally discovered by a construction crew in Washington, D.C. in 2003.Research conducted by the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History discovered that the body inside, still wearing a white burial suit, was that of William T. White, about age 15.William, who appears to have had a heart defect that would have made him sickly, died on January 23, 1852:

“The boy was extremely well preserved and clad in white cotton clothing that included a pleated shirt and vest with cloth-covered buttons, flared trousers, darned socks and ankle-length underdrawers.”

According to the article, the body “had been buried in a cemetery that probably belonged to Columbian College, the precursor to George Washington University, in what is now Columbia Heights, and had been a student at the college preparatory school when he died.”

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Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Collects Panamanian DNA

On the heels of last week’s announcement that Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) will be collecting DNA samples in Mongolia comes new information that the company will be conducting a similar project in Panama.

According to the announcement, SMGF has partnered with the Gorgas Memorial Institute (Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud Panama) and will attempt to collect 1,500 to 2,000 DNA samples with pedigree charts.The project will gather DNA from each of Panama’s nine provinces and three territories and will include individuals from all major ethnic groups, and from both urban and rural areas:

“We are honored to join with Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama‘s primary institute for health and population studies, to study this country’s diverse, multi-faceted populations,” said Dr. Scott Woodward, executive director of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. “Panama is a fascinating melting pot, its genetic and cultural mix having been influenced by a broad array of Native American populations, Africans from the slave trade, and Europeans and Asians from multiple eras.”

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Genetic Genealogy Spreads Around the World


Commercially available genetic genealogy isn’t just for Americans and Europeans anymore. Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences, centered in Dubai, recently sent me an email announcing their new venture into the field of genetic genealogy testing.

Although it wasn’t apparent from the email that I received, Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences has partnered with Family Tree DNA to offer genetic genealogy testing. The following sentence comes from a press release at i-newswire: “Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences is proud to be associated with Family Tree DNA to create a database for the Middle Eastern population.”

From the Email:

“Dubai: 09/12/2007-Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences is set to launch a new Wall Chart of DNA Ancestry services to the people of the Middle East to help them invent their deep ancestors from 150,000 years ago. The roots of this tree lie more than 100,000 years in the past, at a time when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were living in Africa. As the branches of the tree multiply, they record the history of our species and the dramatic stories of how pioneering groups of humans explored and populated our planet. The different journeys they made shaped the world we know today.

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DNA Collection Project in South Africa

Dr. Wilmot James, head of the African Genome Project and honorary professor of human genetics at the University of Cape Town, is heading a DNA collection project in South Africa.Dr. James is joined by his colleague Himla Soodyall, a scientist at the National Health Laboratory Service and an associate professor in the Division of Human Genetics at the University of Witwatersrand.On September 9th, James and Soodyall collected swab samples from a number of Capetonians.

The African Genome Project is supported by the South African genealogy website (although I was not able to find any information there).One of the goals of the project is to create a public genetic database to examine “how the country became populated over thousands of years” by filling in the gap in current DNA databases.

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What’s on the Web?

  1. Misha Angrist wrote about the implications of personal genome sequencing in “Warts and all.”

  1. I think most everyone would agree that affordable whole-genome sequencing will be around long before we understand the information it reveals.I asked another member of The DNA Network, The Gene Sherpa his opinion on the matter.Genome Technology Online also thought it was an interesting discussion.And by the way, the Genome Technology Online’s daily newsletter is a great way to stay up-to-date.

  1. DNA Consulting is launching an online forum called DNA Ancestor Communities (from Family Tree Magazine).

  1. At Venturebeat: lifesciences, David Hamilton wrote a great post about genome sequencing and insurance – “Personal genomics and the end of insurance.”It received a lot of attention this week, including a mention in Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.

  1. EyeonDNA has a clip of Craig Venter from the Charlie Rose show in 2000, back before Venter was able to browse his entire genomic sequence.

  1. Jay Flatley of Illumina revealed more information about future products being offered by 23andMe.Naturally, it received a lot of attention (be sure to read the comments as well):

oI wrote about it here at The Genetic Genealogist;

oVentureBeat: lifesciences wrote an article, and ended with: “Rumors of yet a third, still stealthy, personal-genomics startup are also swirling around the Valley.”Any ideas?

oAnother early mention came from Megan’s Roots World, who, like me, picked up on the fact that 23andMe is initially focusing on ancestry.

obusiness|bytes|genes|molecules wrote an interesting post.

oGigaOM has a very brief mention.

oGenome Technology Online links back to the Forbes article as well.

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