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Controversial Article About Genetic Tests At The Jewish Journal

An article entitled “Gene Test Kits – Can They Lead To Dating Services” by Annalee Newitz discusses the author’s thoughts on the implications of genome sequencing offered by the number of companies that have sprung up in the past year. As a genetic genealogist who is interested in the intersection of law, science, and ethics, I’m always interested in articles that examine the ethical issues associated with affordable genome sequencing. Unfortunately, this article turned out to have little substance behind some serious accusations.

“Snake Oil”?

Newitz begins by mentioning companies 23andMe and deCODEme, both of which recently launched genome scanning services. She then proceeds to her thesis, which is that these services are not only not useful, they are dangerous. She states:

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February In Review – What Can I Learn From My Visitors?

This post isn’t exactly about genetic genealogy. Rather, it is about what I can learn from my visitors in order to make The Genetic Genealogist a better place to visit. By analyzing statistics at the end of each month, I hope to continue to refine the direction of the blog to create and present the best content possible. Here are a few of the things I learned from my visitors this month:

The Top Ten Most Visited Posts:

  1. The Family Tree of Blue Eyed Individuals
  2. Where Was My Y-DNA and mtDNA in 1808?
  3. Family Tree DNA Launches DNATraints, A New DNA Testing Company
  4. 23andMe Revisited
  5. African American Lives 2 (February 2008)
  6. African American Lives 2 (A preview from April 2007)
  7. Buick And Ancestry DNA Team Up For a DNA Contest
  8. Genetic Genealogy is SO Mainstream – More Black History Month Events
  9. Famous DNA Review Part III – Niall of the Nine Hostages
  10. The First Personal Genomic Sequencing Test Offered for $985

What did I learn from this list? Well, here are a few interesting facts about these posts:

  • Only 5 of the top 10 articles were actually written in February 2008! This tells me that previously-written content is important, and that I should consider reviewing and updating popular older posts.
  • Four of the top 10 articles were about genetic genealogy and Black History Month. In addition to older content, new content about current topics (such as Black History Month) is equally as important.
  • The first two posts were popular among StumbleUpon readers. I’m not surprised by the first article, as it has obvious popular appeal – but I was surprised by the second article. You can never be sure what posts will be picked up and popularized by social media.

Top 15 Keywords in February 2008:

What can I learn from the keywords used by readers to find my blog?

  1. african american lives 2
  2. dna articles
  3. 23andme
  4. navigenetics
  5. genetic genealogy
  6. articles on dna
  7. genetic genealogist
  8. sorenson genomics
  9. africandna.com
  10. buick ancestry
  11. famous dna
  12. dnatraits
  13. genetic genealogy blog
  14. genealogy test
  15. megan smolenyak

Analytics allows me to track other information about these keywords, including (1) how many pages were viewed by people who came to the site via a particular keyword; and (2) the bounce rate of visitors who came via a keyword. Bounce rate is the percentage of people who exit a site from the first page they visit. So, for instance, for my first keyword “african american lives 2″, the average pages read was 2.4, and the bounce rate was 59% (which are both right around my average). What did I learn from my keywords?

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Knome and Full Genome Sequencing in the New York Times

iStock_000005356657XSmallAmy Harmon, a science writer for the New York Times, writes “Gene Map Becomes a Luxury Item,” an article about Knome (know-me), a sequencing company that will return a customer’s entire genomic sequence for $350,000. Knome was co-founded by Harvard professor George Church, who also directs the Personal Genome Project.

Dan Stoicescu is a retired millionaire who has recently become Knome’s first customer, and only the second person in the world to purchase his entire genomic sequence. According to Dr. Stoicescu, he understands that as of today there is little that his sequence will reveal, but he plans to compare the results of new studies to his genome daily, “like a stock portfolio.”

The article also reveals that Illumina is planning “to sell whole genome sequencing to the ‘rich and famous market’ this year,” says chief executive Jay Flatley. This probably won’t pose much of a problem to Knome – the founders have stated that they are only “offering 20 individuals the opportunity to participate in [their] initial launch phase.”

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The Entrepreneurs Behind Family Tree DNA

The “Starting a Business” section of the online bizjournals site has an article called “Riding the Revolution” that reviews the success of the entrepreneurs behind the popular Family Tree DNA (who recently launched a new company called DNATraits).

The company was founded in April 2000 and is led by president Bennett Greenspan and chief operating officer Max Blankfeld. As the article details, the company has grown from $2.6 million in revenue in 2004 to $12.2 million in 2006, an incredibly impressive climb.

Part of the article describes the company’s future directions and challenges:

“The best solution to building an infrastructure is to be proactive, Blankfeld says, in areas such as human resources, technology and research and development. ‘We hired and keep hiring good people, whether for customer service or the lab; we invested in state-of-the-art equipment for the lab and we keep developing new tests that will respond to our customers’ needs,’ he says.”

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New R1b SNP Series From Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA announces a new SNP product for members of the R1b Y-chromosome haplogroup. The following was posted at the DNA-NEWBIE Yahoogroup by Max Blankfeld, Vice-President of Operations and Marketing at FTDNA:

Many of you have asked about, and have quoted Bennett Greenspan’s comment at the 4th Annual FTDNA Conference on Genetic Genealogy, that in early 2008 we’d be offering the R1b U SNP’s, known as U106 and U152 (also called: S21/S28). We are pleased to announce today that a mini panel containing those SNP’s (as well as U198 and P107) are now available.

Previously, FTDNA could SNP test for R1b1c1 through R1b1c8, but was not testing for R1b1c9, R1b1c10, or R1b1c11. The new SNPs will test for R1b1c9 (U106), R1b1c9b (U198), and R1b1c10 (U152). The P107 SNP is a private SNP within R1b1c9. The R1b tree is available through ISOGG:

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Genetic Genealogy and Black History Month

bhm1.jpg

With the popular African American Lives series on PBS and numerous news stories and magazine columns, Black History Month often results in increased attention to the genealogy and genetic history of African Americans. I saw a similar increased interest in genetic genealogy last February as well.

The Multiracial Roots of Americans

Diverse has an article entitled “More Americans Are Discovering Their Multiracial Roots.” The article discusses traditional genealogical research, then mentions genetic genealogy – particularly automosal testing:

“One of the more fascinating developments with the new genealogy is the extent to which DNA testing is revealing the multi-racial ancestry of Americans. While there’s some controversy about the claims of DNA testing firms as to how accurately they can match individuals to ancestors from specific communities and ethnic groups, there’s a consensus that proper testing can roughly specify a person’s relative mix of his or her ancestors’ geographic origins.”

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More Interesting Links From The Genetic Genealogist

TGG3 On the heels of my recent post discussing all the interesting information that’s recently entered the blogosphere about genetic genealogy and DNA studies, here are a few more:

Misha Angrist, one of the Personal Genome Project’s “First 10“, wrote an article about the inevitability of DNA sequencing at News Observer. The article is a response to a recent editorial in the NEJM.

VisiGen Biotechnologies announces that IF their technology works as planned, the $1000 genome is just months or a few years away. See more at Genetics and Health and Next Generation Sequencing. Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) has made a similar announcement.

John Hawk’s Anthropology Weblog, “Viking Ancestry, Surnames and Medieval Genetics” examines a recent study in Molecular Biology and Evolution “investigating whether the Viking influence on surnames in England is mirrored by Y chromosomes.” It’s a great post, especially for genetic genealogists.

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Interesting Links From The Genetic Genealogist

dna-stock_phixr.JPGThere is so much to talk about, and so little time to write. So I thought I’d do a round-up post to bring these interesting stories to your attention. I hope you enjoy the following:

Of great significance to genetic genealogists, the Wall Street Journal says that as many as 1 in 25 children are the result of non-paternal events! The number seems very high, but it is based on a 2005 report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health studying families in “the U.S., Europe, Russia, Canada, South Africa and several other countries.”

SNP studies are coming out left and right. The recent studies have examined variation among genomes from numerous populations using SNP chips that examine 600,000 or more SNPs. See more at GenomeWeb News, The Spittoon, and Genetic Future. A great quote comes from a discussion of one of these SNP studies at the terrific Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog:

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More 23andMe in the News

image Earlier today I posted about the recent updates to the 23andMe service, including an enhanced Gene Journal section and the new Paternal Ancestry.

To get a much more thorough analysis of these new additions, read David P. Hamilton’s “23andMe makes genomics personal — and slick” at VentureBeat: lifesciences. Hamilton’s articles are always insightful and well-written, and I would highly recommend this one, especially if you are considering a personal genomics service.

Interestingly, Hamilton gives 23andMe’s website high marks over deCODEme’s similar service. Hsien-Hsien Lei at Eye on DNA recently highlighted (in a post entitled “Ann Turner on Personal Genomics Companies 23andMe vs deCODEme“) an article written by genetic genealogist Ann Turner for the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list in which she compared the services offered by the two companies. Genetic Future picked up Eye on DNA’s post and wrote “Ann Turner compares 23andMe and deCODEme.”

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23andMe Adds Paternal Ancestry and an Updated Gene Journal

The Spittoon (23andMe’s blog) announces their new paternal ancestry tool. The information was already obtained from all male participants, so no further sampling is needed. I’m not sure which SNPs they are using to determine haplogroup status, but I’ll look into it.

The Gene Journal (here) adds 30 conditions and traits to bring the total number to almost 60. Interestingly, the conditions and traits are classified as either “Established Research” or “Preliminary Research” based on the studies from which they are derived.

And finally, there is a free demo account that “lets you explore all the features of our service using genetic data from our sample family, the Mendels.” It’s a good way to examine how the genomic data is analyzed and returned to customers using a browser interface.

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