“Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” is a new series from Henry Louis Gates Jr., who previously brought us series such as Faces of America, African American Lives, and African American Lives 2. The show, which airs on PBS stations on Sunday nights, premieres March 25th, 2012 with singer/actor Harry Connick, Jr.
Last week I participated in a conference call with members of the show, including Senior Story Editor and Producer Leslie Asako Gladsjo and Chief Genealogist Johni Cerny. Also on the call, although only able to participate for a few minutes, was Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Here are some interesting tidbits about Finding Your Roots – and genealogy in general – that I learned from the conversation:
- Gates believes that genetic genealogy is deconstructing the notion of race; never has FTDNA or 23andMe returned an African American’s testing results and reported 100% African, for example. In other words, science is demonstrating that things are much more complicated than we would have guessed without the benefit of DNA.
- All guests on Finding Your Roots used both 23andMe and FTDNA for DNA testing – all African Americans participating in the series also used African Ancestry. While the guests receive all their results, we may not always see them.
- Many are still wary of genetic genealogy; many potential guests even turned down the series largely because of the DNA testing involved.
- Gladsjo and Cerny noted that DNA is just another tool for the genealogist; sometimes the guests’ DNA results were very interesting, and sometimes they were “pretty boring.”
I hope you’ll be tuning in tomorrow to see Finding Your Roots. I have a feeling that this is going to be a fascinating series.
Over at The Legal Genealogist (one of my favorite new blogs!), blogger Judy Russell, J.D., CG discusses Ancestry.com’s new autosomal DNA testing service in “Science and the “10th” cousin.”
As I noted in a recent blog post (see “WDYTYA Reveals More Information About Ancestry.com’s New Autosomal DNA Testing“), autosomal DNA testing was featured in the recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are with actor Blair Underwood. After revealing Mr. Underwood’s biogeographical estimates (74% African American and 26% European), they revealed a genetic cousin found in the Ancestry.com’s database:
The service identified a distant cousin (somewhere around the 10th cousin range) who lived in Cameroon (an Eric Sonjowoh). Mr. Sonjowoh was already in the Ancestry.com database, which is why they were able to compare him to Mr. Underwood. According to Eric, someone approached him in 2005 and asked him for his DNA because African Americans were trying to trace their family back to Cameroon. I’m not sure what database the DNA was in, but it shows that Ancestry.com has pre-populated its database with at least some samples from other public and/or proprietary data sources.
[Update (2/24/12): Some genealogy forums are reporting that callers to Ancestry.com are being told that the autosomal DNA test will publicly launch in approximately 1 month (late March or early April).]
Tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured African-American actor Blair Underwood. For those not familiar with Who Do You Think You Are, the 1-hour program examines the genealogy of a celebrity, typically focusing on one or two of their most interesting families.
This episode was of particular interest to me because it featured Ancestry.com’s new autosomal DNA testing service, which I’ve written about before (see “Ancestry.com’s Autosomal DNA Product – An Update”). While there wasn’t too much new information about the DNA product in this episode, it was an interesting sneak peek at the service.
(I almost titled this post as “23andMe Bringing New Blood to Marketing,” but there’s nothing worse than a bad pun!).
Business Insider is reporting (“Sergey Brin’s Wife Is Hiring A Marketing Team For Her Gene Startup“) that 23andMe is looking to increase the marketing of their services.
In an interview with Business Insider, Anne Wojcicki reported that the company is creating a marketing team. Indeed, I’ve seen at least one marketing position (VP of Marketing) offered by 23andMe in several locations over the past 2 weeks (see here and here, for example). It looks like it would be a very interesting and fun position.
The article also notes that as of October 2011, the 23andMe database officially had 125,000 subscribers.
As I’ve stated many, many times in the past, the future of genetic genealogy is combining test results with both family trees and paper records.
Today, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA announced a partnership that will bring that future one step closer to reality. MyHeritage will offer a full line of tests (13 in total) through FTDNA, including these basic introductory tests (with discounts – not shown below – for MyHeritage subscribers):
- Y-DNA12 (12 Y-STR markers) – $99
- mtDNA (HVR1 region) – $99
- Family Finder (autosomal test) – $298
The FAQ page for the tests is here (and I note that although they currently do not allow import of test results from other providers, they plan to in the future). I wonder if existing FTDNA test-takers can import their results?
Given MyHeritage’s worldwide reach and enormous membership (62 million members around the world!), it will be interesting to see whether this new partnership expands genetic genealogy testing in other parts of the world, which have been slow to try this technology.
Direct-to-consumer DNA testing has led to the re-joining of yet another family.
Y-DNA and autosomal testing by Family Tree DNA has revealed that two NFL players , Xavier Omon (San Francisco 49ers)) and Ogemdi Nwagbuo (San Diego Chargers), are half-brothers. ESPN has a long write-up of the story at “A brothers’ tale for Omon, Nwagbuo.”
Meeting for the First Time
The brothers had planned to meet face-to-face yesterday, September 1, 2011, as their teams met on the field. Turns out Omon’s team, the 49ers, were victorious, meaning that if he’s anything like my brothers, he gave Nwagbuo a hard time about it! The Mercury News has a story about the brothers’ first meeting at “Omon meets half-brother (a Charger) for first time,” and the SF Gate has a story at “49ers’ Xavier Omon meets half-brother.”
As you may have heard, I recently made my 23andMe and Family Tree DNA autosomal testing results available for download online at “mygenotype,” and dedicated the information to the public domain (if dedicating DNA sequence to the public domain is even possible – I’m currently doing some research in this area and expect to write more in the future).
At “mygenotype” you can download the following:
My Family Tree DNA Results:
- Affymetrix Autosomal DNA Results (2010)
- Affymetrix X-Chromosome DNA Results (2010)
- Illumina Autosomal DNA Results (2011)
- Illumina X-Chromosome DNA Results (2011)
My 23andMe Results:
- V2 Results (2008)
- V3 Results (2010)
- Y-DNA Results (2010)
- mtDNA Results (2010)
You can also find my SNPedia Promethease reports:
In addition to my genome, Razib Khan of Gene Expression has a spreadsheet of approximately 48 other genomes that are available for download online.
A Challenge To YOU
Now that the information is out there, available to anyone who might be interested, it remains to be seen who might be interested in the information.
DNA Heritage, a popular genetic genealogy company intiated in 2002, has ceased operations (although pending orders will be fulfilled). The company’s website announced today that it is in the process of transferring their database and domains to Family Tree DNA.
Family Tree DNA, meanwhile, has announced that it records in the DNA Heritage database will only be placed into FTDNA’s database if the owner agrees to opt-in. FTDNA has a series of FAQs related to the transfer available here.
The full text of the announcement is below:
As of April 19 2011, DNA Heritage has ceased its operations and is in the process of transferring the domains DNAHeritage.com and Ybase.org to Family Tree DNA.
All the tests in progress will be processed by our current lab and the results will be delivered to our customers.
Last week I wrote about the results of my Family Finder autosomal DNA test by Family Tree DNA (see “A Review of Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder – Part I“). The Family Finder test uses a whole-genome SNP scan to find stretches of DNA shared by two individuals, thus identifying your genetic cousins (and will soon include the Population Finder analysis of admixture percentages). I currently have over 33 genetic cousins in Family Finder, and I’m working with them to identify our common ancestor(s).
The Affymetrix microarray chip used by FTDNA includes over 500,000 pairs of SNPs located on the X chromosome and the autosomes (no Y chromosome SNPs). Via SNPedia:
FamilyTreeDNA uses an Affymetrix Axiom CEU microarray chip with 3,269 SNPs removed (563,800 SNPs reported) for autosomal and X (but not Y or mitochondrial) ancestry testing for $289. Other sources have cited 548011 snps. This platform tests 1871 of the 12442 snps in SNPedia.
Since late 2007, several “direct-to-consumer” or “DTC” genetic testing products have entered the marketplace, many of which offered some degree of autosomal ancestry analysis (including 23andMe, deCODEme, and Pathway Genomics, among others).
In early 2010, genetic ancestry testing company Family Tree DNA announced that it would begin offering a new genetic genealogy product (see “Announcing Family Finder – An Autosomal Test From Family Tree DNA”). The new product, called “Family Finder,” is one of only a very few autosomal genetic genealogy tests available to consumers.
The Family Finder test uses an Affymetrix microarray chip that includes over 500,000 pairs of locations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in your autosomal DNA. Once the SNPs are analyzed, FTDNA detects linked blocks of DNA that indicate a common ancestor. The number and size of these linked blocks is used to determine how recently or closely two people are related. From the Family Finder FAQ page: