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Large-Scale Genetic Genealogy Privacy Concerns

thegeneticgenealogist1 I’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, etc…) through recent history as the result of combining extensive genomic sequencing with massive family tree information.  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.

A New Privacy Study

In “Inferential Genotyping of Y Chromosomes in Latter-Day Saints Founders and Comparison to Utah Samples in the HapMap Project,” author Jane Gitschier uses a combination of FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org) and Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (http://www.smgf.org/) to elucidate the Y-chromosome signature of two founders of the LDS Church.  Gitschier then used that information to determine whether … Click to read more!

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Family Tree DNA Reaches 500,000 DNA Testing Kits

image In November 2007 I estimated that as of that date 600,000 to 700,000 DNA testing kits had been sold by genetic genealogy companies and that the number was increasing by 80,000 to 100,000 kits per year  (see “How Big is the Genetic Genealogy Market?”).  I ended that article with a prediction:  “As the interest in genetic genealogy grows, I predict that the 1 millionth genetic genealogy customer will push the ‘buy’ button as early as 2009.”

It seems my prediction might not have been too far off.  This week, Family Tree DNA issued a press release stating that the company had recently received an order for the 500,000th testing kit.

FTDNA’s Press Release:

HOUSTON, February 9, 2009 (For Immediate Release) – Family Tree DNA … Click to read more!

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23andMe and mondoBIOTECH Announce Partnership

imageimage

23andMe and mondoBIOTECH announced at Davos (the World Economic Forum in Switzerland) today that they will work together to further the study of rare diseases.  According to the press release (below), mondoBIOTECH will identify individuals suffering from certain rare diseases and sponsor their enrollment in the 23andMe Personal Genome Service™.  Researchers will use the information collected to learn more about the potential causes of these rare diseases.

CNBC Video:

Linda Avey appeared on CNBC this morning to discuss the company and the partnership – see “It’s All in the Genes.”

The Press Release:

Davos, Switzerland – January 28th 2009 – 23andMe, Inc., an industry leader in personal genetics, and Mondobiotech AG, a Swiss research … Click to read more!

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The Genealogy Market 2009

GenealogyMarket I’ve long been interested in the success and long-term outlook of the genealogy market.  Although altruistic genealogists have done immense amounts of work to transcribe and put records online, one of the strongest forces behind the digitization of genealogical records has been private profit-driven organizations.  And these organizations, of course, rely on the viability of the market.

FTM Media Kit

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings recently linked to Family Tree Magazine’s 46 page 2009 Media Kit, which contains extensive information about the genealogy market and the Family Tree Magazine audience.  The report is filled with statistics about all facets of genealogy and genealogists, and the author(s) include links to all their primary information.

Genetic Genealogy Market

The … Click to read more!

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Humans Entered the Americas in More Than One Wave

image An international team of researchers have concluded that humans entered the Americas from Asia along at least two different paths.  By studying two rare mtDNA haplogroups found in Native Americans – D4h3 and X2a – the researchers conclude that D4h3 spread into the Americans along the Pacific coast while X2a entered through the ice-free corridor between the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets.

From the Press Release:  “Six major genetic lineages account for 95 percent of Native American mtDNA and are distributed everywhere in the Americas,” said first author Ugo Perego, director of operations at SMGF. “So we chose to analyze two rare genetic groups and eliminate that ‘statistical background noise.’ In this way, we found patterns … Click to read more!

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Unlocking the Genealogical Secrets of the X Chromosome

Note: there are some great X chromosome inheritance charts below – if you are unable to see them, be sure to click through to the original post!

Most genetic genealogists have sent away their cheek swabs to learn about their mitochondrial DNA or their Y-DNA lines.  Others have explored their autosomal DNA for ancestral information, a field that is growing quickly and will undergo rapid changes as the price of sequencing continues to fall.

Now genetic genealogists are beginning to discover the ancestral information locked away in the X chromosome.  Indeed, X chromosome tests have been offered by companies such as Family Tree DNA for a number of years.  Armed with some of this information as well as the advent of SNP chip information from 23andMe and deCODEme, … Click to read more!

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A Lecture by Spencer Wells

image Last week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project from National Geographic and IBM.

The talk was a Syracuse Symposium event, and the first big event ever to be held in Syracuse University’s new $110 million Life Sciences Center.  I thought it was fitting that the first event to celebrate the future of the new life sciences building was a lecture that examined the collective genetic journey of mankind.

Dr. Wells began by giving the audience a very brief introduction about DNA and genetic genealogy.  He included a great quote that “The question of origin is actually a question about genealogy.”  For those that are not familiar with the Genographic Project, it was launched in 2005 and includes three primary missions:

  1. Global DNA sampling from indigenous and traditional cultures which retain a geographic link with their current location;
  2. Public participation; and
  3. The legacy fund, which is funded by the public participation aspect of the project and aims to “empower indigenous and traditional peoples by supporting locally-led efforts.”

Dr. Wells is a great speaker and the hour-long lecture … Click to read more!

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DNA Could Reveal Your Surname, Of Course

allelic length variation among 6 individuals
Image via Wikipedia

New research from Mark Jobling’s lab at the University of Leicester suggests that Y-DNA can be used to determine a male’s surname.

I know, I know, this is obvious to anyone who is familiar with genetic genealogy.  Just check out the many instances of this type of determination at ISOGG’s Success Stories website, for example.  However, as you’ll see below, this research has resulted in some new and interesting information.

Method

Dr. Turi King, who conducted the research, recruited over 2,500 men with roughly 500 different surnames to submit Y-DNA samples.  The sample set included a group not sharing surnames as well as sets of men (between 2 and 180) who shared a surname (including recognized variants).  She then typed 9 SNPs and 17 STRs.  There’s much … Click to read more!

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Personal Genome Project Begins Releasing Information

image The Personal Genome Project (PGP) was established to analyze and publicly share the genomes and personal information of up to 100,000 volunteers in order to advance understanding of “genetic and environmental contributions to human traits and to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.”  In the first phase of the PGP, ten volunteers (the “First 10″ – see information about the First 10 here on my blog and at the PGP website) have had their DNA analyzed and have given their personal information.

Last month, George Church, the PGP’s principal investigator, reported that the project expected to publish data about the First 10 on its website in mid- to late October.  Church might have meant genotype (i.e. sequencing) information, since some information about phenotype, health … Click to read more!

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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 … Click to read more!