In my genealogical research, I have sometimes found myself missing the trees by focusing on the forest. I think it happens to many genealogists – we get caught up in the research, the dates, the places, and we forget that there was so much more to people than their vital statistics.
This can happen to genetic genealogists as well. The connection between the results of a DNA test and the individuals in our tree can be easy to forget and difficult to visualize. Take the results of an mtDNA test, for example. The results are obtained from a tiny piece of DNA that has traveled thousands of years (and often thousands of miles) through hundreds of individuals to end up in your cheek cells and on the tip of a swab. Everyone’s mtDNA is the product of an amazingly rich story that has largely been lost to history.
Yesterday I posted about my recent testing experience with 23andMe, focusing on the health and traits information. This post examines the genealogical aspects of testing at 23andMe.
Although I was interested in the health and traits information, I was most excited about the ancestral information. 23andMe’s test looks at mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal coverage. I believe that the company is working to report on ancestry of the X-chromosome, but as I have previously reported X-DNA ancestry can be extremely challenging.
This was my second foray into autosomal DNA testing. In 2003 I purchased an AncestrybyDNA 2.0 test from DNAPrint Genomics. The test looked at 71 Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) to determine percentages of Indo-European, East-Asian, Native-American, and African ancestry. It is worth noting that before AncestrybyDNA went out of business (more info here), the company was offering more advanced tests that examined as many as 1,700 markers (still far below the number of markers used to quantify percentages at 23andMe and deCODEme).
This is the first entry in a two-part series describing my recent experiences with genetic testing through 23andMe. Although I was most excited by the genetic genealogy information provided by the results, I thought that readers might be interested in some of the health and trait information as well. If I forget to discuss something, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.
Note that this discussion is limited to a cursory analysis of my results. Anyone who is considering testing through 23andMe should be aware that scientists are only just beginning to study and understand the connection between genetics and health, and thus the results are not meant to be interpreted as absolutes. Be sure to analyze your own results with this caveat in mind, and do your own research into the testing process.
In October 2007, I wrote about the launch of GeneTree (see â€œSorenson Genomicâ€™s GeneTree Launchesâ€), a â€œDNA-enabled family history-sharing Web site.â€Â Today, GeneTree has announced that it is out of beta and has added advanced features for users.
Following is the press release from GeneTree:
SALT LAKE CITY (March 9, 2009)â€”GeneTree today announced its free family Web site has completed beta testing and now offers those who sign in a simple, intuitive way to regularly communicate with their extended family and to securely share and store family contact information, personal profiles, photos, video and ancestry documents. Advanced features now available through GeneTreeâ€™s redesigned graphic interface include GEDCOM file-format import for family tree collaboration, paternal line genetic genealogy and an all-new family tree building tool.
Itâ€™s very interesting to see the responses of these anonymous individuals, particularly since they are from different countries.
For example, both were asked why they decided to purchase the 23andMe test – â€œWas it to test your ancestry or genetic health risk factors?â€Â Interestingly, for both individuals ancestry was the motivating factor behind testing.Â More support for my conclusion that these companies should strongly promote the ancestral aspects of their products.
Here are a few examples of other questions in the interviews:
In February, I received a number of comments and emails which suggested that DNAPrint Genomics was not processing results and could not be reached by telephone.Â DNAPrint was one of the first companies to offer â€˜large-scaleâ€™ autosomal testing, although their tests were unable to compete with the testing currently offered by companies like 23andMe and deCODEme.
Indeed, the company has recently ceased operations.Â From the site: â€œDNAPrintÂ® Genomics, Inc. has regrettably ceased operations. We thank you for your support.â€Â As I wrote last February, the company was scheduled to be purchased by Nanobac Pharmaceuticals, but the deal fell through shortly thereafter.
This isnâ€™t about genetic genealogy or even genealogy, but itâ€™s too interesting to pass up.
A recent Fortune article titled â€œHow Facebook is taking over our livesâ€ points out that roughly 175 million people are members of Facebook, and that the total daily use of Facebook is over 3 billion minutes.
Here are some rough calculations using that 3 billion minutes per day value (and feel free to check my math, please!):Â three billion minutes equals 50 million hours, which equals 2.08 million days, which equals 5,707 years.
Thus, every single day humanity spends the equivalent of over 5,000 years on Facebook!
Among other things, the article mentions several of the projects that focus on African American genetic genealogy, including African Ancestry:
The curiosity has fueled the growth of DNA testing outfits. African Ancestry Inc., a Washington-based firm, has tested the DNA of 15,000 people against its database of 25,000 African genetic lineages, according to its president, Gina M. Paige. The firm’s clients include Winfrey, film director Spike Lee, musician Quincy Jones, comedian Whoopi Goldberg and actors Morgan Freeman and Don Cheadle.
Peter Dizikes at Salon.com writes “Your DNA is a Snitch,” about privacy concerns surrounding genetic testing. Peter contacted me a little while ago and we talked about some of my thoughts on the topic. My opinion on the security measures at genetic testing companies was included in the story:
Early-adopting customers tend to agree [that genetic testing companies can protect personal information]. “They have every incentive to keep information private,” says Blaine Bettinger, a law student and genetics blogger in New York state and a 23andMe customer.” A security breach would be devastating for those companies.” Certainly well-funded firms like Navigenics and 23andMe can devote substantial resources to data protection.
Iâ€™ve been working on a presentation regarding the future of genetic genealogy, and one aspect of that future is the ability to trace DNA (SNPs, mutations, haplogroups, etcâ€¦) through recent history as the result of combining extensive genomic sequencing with massive family tree information.Â Although the ability to do this will have many uses (both for genealogy and for personalized medicine), it will also raise a number of privacy issues, as a recent paper suggests.