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Identifying an Unknown Parent Using Genetic Genealogy

iStock_000007020771XSmall Last week, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings posed a genetic genealogy question on his blog.  I posted a possible solution in the comments there, but I am asked this question regularly and thought I would discuss it here.

At a recent meeting that Randy attended, a woman in the audience asked the speaker:

“I don’t know who my father is. He and my mother had relations in Naples, Italy back in the 1950’s and I was born. I have no siblings. My mother did not tell me his name and there is no father’s name on my birth certificate. Can DNA research help me?”

This particular situation is exceptionally challenging.  If the child had been a boy, he would have his father’s Y-DNA and a decent chance at identifying his father’s surname (and thus could perhaps further elucidate his actual identity with the combination of DNA research and traditional genealogical research).  If the unknown parent had been the mother, the daughter would possess the unknown parent’s mtDNA and a remote but possible chance of finding an mtDNA match and using traditional genealogical techniques to identify the mother.

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Abstracts From the ASHG 2008 Meeting

image The American Society of Human Genetics is having its 58th Annual Meeting in November.  As I was looking through the meeting abstracts, I noticed that there were a number of abstracts that dealt with topics related to genetic genealogy.  I thought some of you would be interested in getting an advance look at genetic genealogy research that will be publicly released and published over the next year or two.  Although I didn’t include the whole abstracts for most of them, I did include a link for further investigation.  (Note: I got this idea from Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog).

Interestingly, the first five abstracts all include researchers from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, showing how much the Foundation is providing to the genetic genealogy community.

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10

The $1,000 Genome by the End of 2009?

On December 30th, 2007, I blogged the following:

“[A]ffordable whole-genome sequencing is getting closer and closer every day (my prediction – which is based solely on my own educated guess – is that I will be able to sequence my entire genome for $1,000 or less by the end of 2009).”

It was pretty bold at the time, and I’ve since wondered if I was too optimistic, but now comes news that at least one other person agrees with my prediction.  Harvard professor and genetics researcher George Church – also principal investigator for the Personal Genome Project (PGP) – stated at two conferences, one last week and one this week, that by mid-October of 2008, 36-fold coverage of the human genome will be available for $5,000.  Church went on to say that the $1,000 human genome will be available by the end of 2009.

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Ancestral GPS – Pinpointing the Geographic Origin of Autosomal DNA Sequences

image I’ve been meaning to write about recent two papers, one in Current Biology and one in Nature, that attempt to identify and characterize a relationship between genetic sequence or SNP and geography.  Amazingly, both papers found a very strong correlation between genetics and geography.

From a news article regarding the paper in Nature (note that I haven’t verified that the paper supports the statement; HT: Yann Klimentidis’ Weblog):

"The map was so accurate that when Novembre’s team placed a geopolitical map over their genetic "map", half of the genomes landed within 310 kilometres of their country of origin, while 90% fell within 700 km."

Although there are some caveats, for example in one of the papers all of an individual’s grandparents had to have similar geographic origins in order for the method to identify ancestry, these types of studies will continue to discover and refine the methods and findings.  As Kambiz stated at Anthropology.net, "With higher resolution GeneChips, ideally full genomes, and larger samples, we’ll be able see much more accurate genetic-geographic separations of populations."

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Dick Eastman Interviews The Genetic Genealogist at FGS 2008

On September 5th at the 2008 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was interviewed by Dick Eastman.  In the interview we discuss my blog, DNA testing in general, and my free ebook, “I Have the Results of My Genetic Genealogy Test, Now What?” (which is available for download in the sidebar of the blog).

If the player doesn’t appear in the post, the interview is available here (http://rootstelevision.com/players/player_conferences.php?bctid=1811559654).  It was a pleasure to meet and talk with Dick, and I hope you enjoy the interview.

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Genetic Genealogy Article in the Houston Chronicle

Journalist Maggie Greenhouse writes an entertaining article about genetic genealogy entitled “Who Do You Think You Are? Company Can Help Trace Genetic Ancestry” (Houston Chronicle, Sept. 19, 2008) .  Much of the article is about Oxford Ancestors (OA), a genetic genealogy company based in England, but the article also mentions some companies in the United States:

“Houston is also home to Family Tree DNA, a company that offers the same services as Oxford Ancestors. Last year, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates joined forces with Family Tree DNA to help African Americans looking for answers about their past. AfricanDNA, the company Gates launched in November 2007, offers both genetic testing and genealogical tracing services for African Americans.”

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Gene Genie #37: Human Genomes Are a Dime a Dozen

image Welcome to the September 14, 2008 edition of Gene Genie!  Bloggers have begun to pick up posting with the end of summer, and it seems like everyday there’s a bunch of new interesting posts about the human genome.

96well at Reportergene presents “Trends in development of reporter genes.”  Reportergene is also looking for bloggers/reporters to join the blog’s community and help create the “main repository of news and tools for reportergenomists.”  See here for more information.

fightingfatigue presents » Have Japanese Researchers Found Diagnostic Tool for ME/CFS? posted at Fighting Fatigue.  According to a study discussed in the article, there might now be a test able to diagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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Follow-Up to 23andMe’s Price Drop

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Yesterday I wrote about 23andMe’s decision to lower their price to $399 (down from $999) while adding more genealogically-relevant SNPs and partnering with Ancestry.com.  Although I don’t have any further information about the new SNPs, I’ve seen a couple of interesting articles about the price drop around the blogosphere.

Aaron Rowe at Wired science writes “Human Genetics is Now a Viable Hobby.”  He notes that the new price is “well within the reach of cash-strapped grad students, frugal genealogy buffs and other not-so-early adopters.”  The comment thread is an interesting read as well.

“Cheap as chips”

Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future writes “Cheap as chips: 23andMe slashes the price of personal genomics” at his new scienceblogs location.  Daniel also notes that the updated product “will certainly be popular with genetic genealogists” because of the addition of Y-DNA and mtDNA SNPs, and agrees with my hypothesis that other companies will follow suit and lower their prices.  Daniel also mentions the Personalized Medicine Collaborative (PMC) at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which is offering free personal genome scans to 10,000 individuals this year.

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23andMe Lowers Price to $399 and Adds More Genealogical SNPs

logo 23andMe just announced that the price of their service has dropped from $999 to $399.  According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the company lowered the price of testing to attract more customers and increase the size of their database.  The article maintains that 23andMe will still bring in profit from the lower membership price, which is made possible by a “new, higher-density gene-scanning chip made by Illumina Inc. of San Diego.”  From the press release:

“The new Beadchip, called the HumanHap550-Quad+, makes use of a four-sample format. 23andMe also has added improved custom content to the new Beadchip, which will include a broader range of Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) variations and rare mutations not found on the previous Beadchip, thereby providing more relevant data on published associations, as well as maternal and paternal ancestry.”

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Knome Delivers First Genomic Sequencing

Knome, a personal genomics company that launched within the past year, has just delivered the first genomic sequencing to customers according to a report in the MIT Technology Review.

After paying $350,000 for sequencing, customers receive their genetic sequence on an 8-gigabyte USB drive in an engraved silver box.  The USB is encrypted and contains special genome browsing software.

For the first time in history, it is unclear how many complete human genomes have been sequenced by scientists.  Prior to Knome, we knew exactly how many had been completed.  Now, and probably ever after, genomes will be sequenced and analyzed without all the typical fanfare and press releases.  Instead of just 2 or 3 genomes, there will soon be tens of genomes, then hundreds, and then thousands.

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