BRCA2 as a Cycle Path in Cambridge

Today represents a brief break from genetic genealogy, in a way, but I thought the topic was interesting enough to talk about.


BRCA2 (Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein) is a tumor suppressor gene involved in the repair of DNA damage.BRCA2 binds to and regulates another protein (the product of the RAD51 gene) to fix DNA breaks caused by any number of factors.BRCA2 was discovered in 1995 by Professor Michael Stratton and Dr. Richard Wooster in cooperation with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

To date, researchers have identified 450 different mutations in the BRCA2 gene, some of which unfortunately cause an increased risk of cancer.Typically, the mutated gene produces an abnormally short protein that is unable to help the cell fix DNA breaks.Thus, mutations can accumulate and eventually lead to cancer (breast, ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic).

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23andMe in the News

A June 18th article from MSNBC about online family trees and social networking revealed another tidbit about 23andMe. According to the article (and no source of the information is given), 23andMe “plans to charge $1,000 for an extensive genetic profile and features to help track down lost relatives.”

I’m not exactly sure what that means. Are distant cousins lost relatives? Or is the unknown birth mother of an adopted child a lost relative? Given 23andMe’s interest in genetic genealogy, I’m guessing that it’s for general interest, rather than just for people looking for birth parents. Or perhaps they’re doing both – it’s really not much of a difference. It’s all about building a database, of course. Without the ability to compare results to a database, the usefulness of DNA testing for genealogical purposes can still be informative but is limited.

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Interview with Katherine Hope Borges at ISOGG

The following is an interview with Katherine Hope Borges, founder of ISOGG (The International Society of Genetic Genealogy), done at the 2007 SoCal Genealogical Jamboree. ISOGG has about 5,000 members and is growing rapidly. ISOGG has MANY great services on their website, including the “Founding Fathers DNA Page”, and an up-coming Presidential DNA page.

If you liked the video, there are lots more at Roots Television!! If you’re interested in genetic genealogy and haven’t checked out Roots Television yet, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Thanks to Megan for letting me snag this video!

Genetic Genealogy Used to Identify Lost Soldiers

An article in yesterday’s Mount Vernon News highlighted the use of genetic genealogy to identify POW’s from the Korean War who had died in North Korean detention facilities.

The Korean War Project, sponsored by the Department of Defense, uses genetic tests, especially mtDNA (because mtDNA is so hardy), to match remains to living family members. This type of identification has been used for years now.

One of the volunteers for the Project, Carol Kiley, has found 21 matches in the three months she’s been tracking down families.Ms. Kiley says that her background in genealogy helps her locate the families of missing soliders.

The article discusses the case of Pvt. Robert Wayne McNeil who served in F Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.He was captured as a POW on April 25, 1951, and died thereafter.Remains have been discovered that might be McNeil’s, and Ms. Kiley is attempting to locate a sister, niece, or female cousin for mtDNA testing.

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Using DNA to Reunite the Clan Gregor


James Stuart, known as King James VI in Scotland and King James the I in England and Ireland, issued an edict in 1603 that abolished the surname MacGregor and declared that everyone named MacGregor or Gregor must renounce the name or suffer death, all in response to the murder of the King’s Forester, who himself had hanged some MacGregors for poaching. A bounty of 1,000 merks (apparently a great deal of money) was placed on the heads of the clan leaders, with 100 merks for other members of the clan.

This the origin of Rob Roy, also known as Red MacGregor, or Robert Roy MacGregor. For the next 200 years The Clan Gregor endured this persecution. Men were killed while women and children were sold into slavery in the New World. Finally, in 1774, the Act of Proscription against the clan was repealed.

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Border Reivers DNA Research

A study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the Center for Life in Newcastle, England discovered that only 50% of males with the last name Robson can be traced back to a recent single ancestor.The research, commissioned to create a new exhibit called “The Robson Encyclopedia,” compared 12 markers from the Y-chromosomes of 100 male volunteer Robsons.

Apparently the Border Reiver clan of the Robsons in the Tyne Valley was notorious in the 1600’s and was made famous in a book called “The Steel Bonnets” by George MacDonald Fraser.According to one site:

“The term Border Reivers describes a number of English and Scottish families who fought a seemingly endless series of bloody confrontations from the 13th Century to the mid 17th Century. Sheep stealing and burning each other’s homes were part of everyday Border Reiver life – they were rugged, tough people who lived by their own laws.”

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The Biggest Family Reunion Ever Based on Genetic Genealogy?

Yesterday The Jewish Press announced the “Kohen and Levi Conference: A Gathering of the Tribe.”The conference, to be held on July 15-19, 2007, is hosted in Jerusalem by The Center for Kohanim.The Center was founded in 1985 to “promote identity and knowledge among Kohanim the world over, and increase their feelings of awareness and commitment to their heritage as Kohanim.”The conference has a main page, a press release, and a brochure (pdf).According to the press release:

Recent scientific research and DNA testing has proven that today’s descendents of the biblical Kohanim are genetically related. Molecular geneticists have discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a Y- chromosome DNA lineage signature shared by a majority of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Kohanim. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present-day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, genetically dated to have lived approximately 3,300 years ago, a time corresponding to the Exodus from Egypt.

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Daughters of Eve in DNA Paintings

Artist Ulla Plougmand-Turner has created paintings of The Seven Daughters of Eve using paint that contains reconstructed ancient DNA manufactured by Oxford Ancestors.

Most genetic genealogists are very familiar with Bryan Sykes’ Seven Daughters of Eve, the 7 “clan mothers” (Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine) from whom the majority of Europeans are believed to obtain their mitochondrial DNA.Note that there are many more “clan mothers” located throughout the world – I, for instance, am descended from clan Aiyana.

The exhibition was commissioned by Professor Bryan Sykes, the head of Human Genetics at Oxford University and the founder of Oxford Ancestors.Prof. Sykes met Ms. Plougmand-Turner by chance when he was taking DNA samples from villagers at Longleat.

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Genetic Genealogy In the News

The L.A. Daily News published an article yesterday titled “DNA testing helps find lost legacies and cements connections.”

The article discusses the success some individuals have had using genetic genealogy. For example, Edwin Blancher suspected that his oldest known relative changed his surname from Blanchard to Blancher.DNA testing suggests that he did.

And Doug Miller of California has confirmed that neither his Y chromosome nor his mtDNA are of Native American descent.

[Thanks to Hsien at EyeonDNA for the article!]