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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 Ancestry24.com (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 … Click to read more!

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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):

o I wrote about it here at The Genetic Genealogist;

o VentureBeat: 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?

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

o business|bytes|genes|molecules wrote an interesting post.

o GigaOM has a very brief mention.

o Genome Technology Online links back to the Forbes article as well.
… Click to read more!

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23andMe Partners with Illumina – To Offer Genetic Genealogy?


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23andMe has been the subject of much discussion in the biotech and personalized medicine circles of the blogosphere (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for plenty of information/speculation/discussion).

In August, 23andMe announced (“23andMe and Illumina Forge Consumer Genomics Goliath”) that they have partnered together to offer “consumer genotyping” – more about that in a minute. Illumina produces “SNP chips”, chips that can test a genome for thousands of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) at a time. For example, the company has one chip that tests one million SNPs for as little as $600, and another chip that tests 550,000 SNPs (the HumanHap550) for only $300-$450. Interestingly, Illumina is also able to custom build chips to add specific SNPs if the customer so desires. Additionally, as the announcement … Click to read more!

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A Meeting of the Minds

If you’re interested, here’s a link to a document from the Edge Foundation, a group designed to promote the discussion of intellectual pursuits. The document is a summary (including video links) of a casual meeting between some fantastic scientific minds (Craig Venter, Freeman Dyson, Robert Shapiro, Dimitar Sasselov, and Seth Lloyd) which took place in late August.

Although Dr. Church doesn’t discuss the Personal Genome Project, his brief discussion about our past and our future is very interesting.  There’s also a summary of the meeting from Gregory T. Huang, an invited journalist.  I see that one of the invited guests was Ting Wu, a researcher at Harvard who has initiated the pgEd (personal genetics education project).

I have to say, I am so tired of the United … Click to read more!

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Dr. Kirk M. Maxey Shares his Expertise with Members of the DNA-NEWBIE Mailing List

The DNA-NEWBIE mailing list is a great resource for people who are new to genetic genealogy or genetic testing in general. The list provides a forum for questions while promoting education and the sharing of ideas. I primarily use the mailing list to follow current trends or concerns in the field of genetic genealogy so that I can share them here on the blog.

The recent deluge of media attention regarding J. Craig Venter’s diploid genome sequencing prompted one list-member to quote Dr. Edward Rubin: “It’s not clear whether it’ll be 10 years or 50 years, but in our lifetime, [individual DNA sequencing ] will happen.” The list-member goes on to say that it will probably not happen in his lifetime since he turns 75 next month.

Interestingly, the list-member’s … Click to read more!

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Low-Cost Sequencing Getting Closer and Closer

A very interesting article in the New Scientist published last week by Peter Aldhous examines the approach of affordable whole-genome sequencing. The article mentions 23andme, the recently published genomes of James Watson and J. Craig Venter, and the Personal Genome Project.

“Thanks to the advances in sequencing technology, that might be done for as little as $1000 per person. “DNA chips”, meanwhile, can scan your genome for common “spelling mistakes” for just a few hundred dollars. At that price, the era of personalised genomics is already dawning. “This is the year,” claims [Dr. George] Church.”

Mr. Aldhous’ article doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff either. Although I could potentially obtain my entire genomic sequence if I had $1 million lying around, very little of the information would be interpretable. We still have so very much to learn about our DNA. A great quote comes from Michael Egholm of 454 Life Sciences:

“We’re going to have routine genome sequencing long before physicians know how to make any sense of it.”

Interestingly, Dr. Church believes that people will have at least their protein-sequencing regions sequenced before the $1000 genome is available, at which time they will … Click to read more!

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Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Collects Mongolian DNA


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A news release announces the completion of a DNA collection project by SMGF (Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation) in Mongolia. The goal of the project is to study the descendants of ancient nomads from the Eurasian steppes. The collection was performed in conjunction with the National University of Mongolia and represents “the most comprehensive [DNA collection project] in the history of Mongolia, incorporating all of the country’s geographic regions and major ethnic populations.” In total, more than 3,000 DNA samples and pedigree charts were obtained from 24 different ethnic groups.

According to the news release, the “global fascination with Mongolian icons such as Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun” played a role in promoting the project:

“For many centuries, Mongolians have held an ongoing fascination in genealogy, spurred in part by reverence for ancestors and for oral traditions – with some family and clan names stretching back as far as the 10th Century (AD). Under Genghis Khan’s rule in the 13th Century, Mongols invaded Eurasian territory, then ruled there for more than two centuries. In the 20th century the then-USSR gained political control of Mongolia and its leaders systematically worked to eradicate Mongolian national identity – especially the Khan connection – executing or imprisoning an estimated 100,000 Mongols between 1922 and 1940. In recent years, however, there has been a renaissance of Mongolian national identity, accompanied by a widespread search for Mongolian genetic roots – which the SMGF-NUM partnership will continue to foster.”

… Click to read more!

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Facts & Genes Newsletter From Family Tree DNA

A few days ago I received the latest Facts & Genes Newsletter from Family Tree DNA.  The newsletter is available on their website and includes the following tidbits:

  1. In August the company sent out their 100,000th test kit;
  2. The website now has a site map;
  3. The company was named one of the 100 fastest growing companies in Houston, and;
  4. The newsletter also has a brief segment entitled “Genetic Genealogy: Where to Start“, which might be interesting to some of you who are new to genetic genealogy!

… Click to read more!

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Interview with Dana Waring, A Founder of the Personal Genetics Education Project

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dana Waring, a member of Ting Wu‘s lab at Harvard and one of the creators/caretakers of the pgEd, the Personal Genetics Education Project. It was a fascinating conversation about the future of personal genetics and the dire need for more education of the public in this field. You can see a few recent mentions of the pgEd from other members of the DNA Network – EyeonDNA, and genomeboy.com.

I was very interested in Dana’s project, and she was willing to share more information with me and my readers via the following email interview:
TGG: How did you get involved with the Personal Genetics Education Project?

DW: The Personal Genetics Education Project is based in the Wu lab at Harvard Medical School. The main research focus of the lab is in a branch of epigenetics called homology effects, … Click to read more!

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J. Craig Venter and Personal Genetics

Wow, what a day for personal genetics. Yesterday, J. Craig Venter’s diploid genome was released (I’m not sure where the sequence is, but the paper is available at PLoS Biology, a OPEN ACCESS journal!).

I know that many people have their gripe about Venter, but seeing a story about personal genetics on the front page of CNN is important. It educates people and helps alleviate fears about genomic sequencing. I think it’s a great opportunity for the field. Here’s a few quotes from the CNN story:

“Venter has just published almost all 6 billion letters, or 96 percent, of his own personal genetic code in the journal PLoS Biology. From diseases to personality traits, it’s the most comprehensive human genome to date. Venter’s gene map provides a new understanding of his genetic destiny, according to the DNA inherited from both his father and his mother.

Venter says it’s just the beginning of a new era of personal genomics. “For the first time, we can answer almost any question of what’s genetic, what’s the environment. Our genes can tell us probabilities of what might happen and give us a chance to do something about it.”

There are also some quotes from George Church, leader of the Personal Genome Project:

“Dr. George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, is working on a DNA test that would identify for the consumer 1 percent of his or her DNA at a cost of $1,000. He says that someday soon, people may be checking their DNA maps as they do their stock portfolios — constantly adjusting to everyday developments and new gene discoveries.

“You’ll have all that information sitting at your desk and as the information flows in you’ll say, ‘I only want to know things of certain type. I don’t want to know about Alzheimer’s, or I don’t want to know about heart disease, or I do, or I want to know about everything, as soon as it comes in,” says Church.

It’s a habit Venter already follows. As more genes are discovered, he says, he constantly checks his own genome.”

For all the genetic genealogists out there, our habit will undoubtedly be comparing our genomes in order to find or identify potential relatives. Sure, curing disease and improving health is important, but … Click to read more!