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Famous DNA Review, Part III – Warren and Jimmy Buffett

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It turns out that 23andMe isn’t just a startup idea that’s waiting for technology to catch up. In 1999, Fortune Magazine posed the question, “Are Jimmy and Warren Buffett Related?” This week, 23andMe revealed the long-awaited answer, which is that the two Buffetts – well, let’s save that for the end.

Apparently Warren Buffett (finance guru) and Jimmy Buffett (musician), have always wondered if they are related to each other, potentially through a common ancestor who lived in a penal colony in the South Pacific. Earlier this year Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder of 23andMe, asked Jimmy and Warren if they would submit DNA for analysis. According to Warren Buffett’s assistant, he “just kept spitting into a little receptacle, and then we FedExed it. Not very elegant.” 23andMe then did Y chromosome and mtDNA analysis of Warren and Jimmy’s DNA.

I think this was a brilliant marketing move. There’s already strong evidence that people are interested in genetic genealogy (after all, you’re reading The Genetic Genealogist!), and involving celebrities is a great way to both introduce people to the technology and to the company. Congratulations to 23andMe on an interesting project. Looks like I’m going to have to add you to my sidebar of Genetic Genealogy Testing Firms!

Oh, and by the way, it turns out that Warren and Jimmy Buffett are not related (at least not through their Y chromosome or mtDNA lines). Joanna Mountain, the head of 23andMe’s ancestry product line and a former professor of anthropological genetics at Stanford, revealed that Jimmy and Warren would have to go back more than 10,000 years to find a common paternal ancestor. Warren shared his ten-page DNA report with Fortune, and it turns out that his paternal ancestors likely originate from northern Scandinavia, while his mtDNA likely has roots in Iberia or Estonia.

There is more discussion of this project at Valleywag, Buzzle.com, the WSJ, the Genealogue, and InfoWorld. Interestingly, by reading the InfoWorld article it would appear that the author has never previously heard of genetic genealogy, and thus it would appear that 23andMe’s project is already bearing fruit.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007