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Genetic Genealogy in the Classroom

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Forty advanced placement science students at Soldan International High School in St. Louis have submitted their DNA for testing with the National Geographic Society’s Genographic project. An article in the St. Louis-Post Dispatch highlights some of the statements made by the students and faculty:

“Many times students don’t see the relevance of what they’re learning,” said Assistant Principal Alice Manus, the Soldan project coordinator. “What they’re learning here will have all sorts of relevance because, really, we’re looking into their lives.”

One student, named John, had more reason to be excited about this test than most – his father died when he was only 13. “I never knew him that well,” said the Soldan sophomore. “Maybe this will tell me more about who he was and where he came from.”

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Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Collects Panamanian DNA

On the heels of last week’s announcement that Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) will be collecting DNA samples in Mongolia comes new information that the company will be conducting a similar project in Panama.

According to the announcement, SMGF has partnered with the Gorgas Memorial Institute (Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud Panama) and will attempt to collect 1,500 to 2,000 DNA samples with pedigree charts.The project will gather DNA from each of Panama’s nine provinces and three territories and will include individuals from all major ethnic groups, and from both urban and rural areas:

“We are honored to join with Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama‘s primary institute for health and population studies, to study this country’s diverse, multi-faceted populations,” said Dr. Scott Woodward, executive director of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. “Panama is a fascinating melting pot, its genetic and cultural mix having been influenced by a broad array of Native American populations, Africans from the slave trade, and Europeans and Asians from multiple eras.”

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DNA Collection Project in South Africa

Dr. Wilmot James, head of the African Genome Project and honorary professor of human genetics at the University of Cape Town, is heading a DNA collection project in South Africa.Dr. James is joined by his colleague Himla Soodyall, a scientist at the National Health Laboratory Service and an associate professor in the Division of Human Genetics at the University of Witwatersrand.On September 9th, James and Soodyall collected swab samples from a number of Capetonians.

The African Genome Project is supported by the South African genealogy website Ancestry24.com (although I was not able to find any information there).One of the goals of the project is to create a public genetic database to examine “how the country became populated over thousands of years” by filling in the gap in current DNA databases.

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23andMe Partners with Illumina – To Offer Genetic Genealogy?

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23andMe has been the subject of much discussion in the biotech and personalized medicine circles of the blogosphere (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for plenty of information/speculation/discussion).

In August, 23andMe announced (“23andMe and Illumina Forge Consumer Genomics Goliath”) that they have partnered together to offer “consumer genotyping” – more about that in a minute.Illumina produces “SNP chips”, chips that can test a genome for thousands of SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) at a time.For example, the company has one chip that tests one million SNPs for as little as $600, and another chip that tests 550,000 SNPs (the HumanHap550) for only $300-$450.Interestingly, Illumina is also able to custom build chips to add specific SNPs if the customer so desires.Additionally, as the announcement touted, Illumina is also exploring the world of inexpensive whole-genome sequencing, suggesting that this partnership with 23andMe could transition from cheap SNP testing to cheap whole-genome sequencing at some point in the future.

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Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Collects Mongolian DNA

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A news release announces the completion of a DNA collection project by SMGF (Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation) in Mongolia.The goal of the project is to study the descendants of ancient nomads from the Eurasian steppes.The collection was performed in conjunction with the National University of Mongolia and represents “the most comprehensive [DNA collection project] in the history of Mongolia, incorporating all of the country’s geographic regions and major ethnic populations.”In total, more than 3,000 DNA samples and pedigree charts were obtained from 24 different ethnic groups.

According to the news release, the “global fascination with Mongolian icons such as Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun” played a role in promoting the project:

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dnaancestry beta From Ancestry.com

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As I mentioned back in June,  Ancestry.com has teamed up with Sorenson Genomics to offer DNA testing.  Today I received the following notification announcing the beta launch of dnaancestry.com.  A Y-DNA test with 33 markers will be $149, while a Y-DNA test with 46 markers will be $199 (if you look at the sample results page, you’ll see a list of the 46 markers tested).  An mtDNA test will be $179, although the exact testing parameters for the mtDNA test are unclear at this point (the website only states that HVR1 and HVR2 will be sequenced).

Introducing DNA Ancestry
We want you to be one of the first to know we’re adding a powerful new dimension to genealogical research by integrating the world’s largest online collection of historical records and family trees with DNA testing. Currently in beta, DNA Ancestry is another way we’re helping people expand their family trees and connect with family across distance and time.

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DNA From the Dead: DNA Banking is Legal, but is it Ethical? Part II

Yesterday we saw that many funeral directors offer DNA retrieval and storage as one of their services.Today, we’ll look into the WHY of DNA storage, and bring up some of the ethical questions it raises.

Why store DNA from the recently deceased?

Undoubtedly, someone who has never heard of DNA retrieval and storage will probably ask WHY we should store a dead relative’s DNA.

The reason most commonly quoted is that the DNA can be used in the future to identify inherited traits such as genetic disorders and other phenotypic characteristics.In 2006, the New England Historic Genealogical Society published an article by Edwin M. Knights, M.D. entitled “DNA Banking for Medical Information.”In the article, Dr. Knights gives a number of reasons for banking DNA from both living and deceased individuals, many of which he gleaned from the Human Genetic Society of Australasia.He states:

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DNA From the Dead: DNA Banking is Legal, but is it Ethical? Part I

The field of genomics is exploding.Every day, the mysteries of our genome are revealed and we learn more and more about the power of DNA.Soon, with affordable whole-genome sequencing, we will be able to analyze our own personal genome for clues about our ancestry, our propensity for disease, and insight into our body and our personality.In fact, this is already well underway.

Undoubtedly, each of us will be faced with a decision in our lifetime – do we want to learn the secrets of our genome, or do we want to live without that knowledge, as all of our ancestors have done for millions of years.This decision is a personal one, and at this point I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer.

But what about those who are unable to make that decision?For example, an infant is unable to give consent for genetic testing, but many states in the USroutinely test newborns for genetic disorders.Today and tomorrow we will be examining another group of individuals who are not able to consent to genetic testing – the recently deceased.

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DNAPrint Genomics Introduces Doggie DNAPrint

Dogs, just like humans, have interesting genealogical histories.And a new DNA test unveiled by DNAPrint Genomics will help you examine your dog’s genetic past.The test is aimed at uncovering the relative percentages of four ancient ancestral breeds in a modern dog – wolf-like, herders, hunters, and mastiff.The test, which will retail for $99, examines 204 canine Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) in the dog genome.For more information, go to www.doggiednaprint.com (not working as of 08/18).

“The test will contain a consent form, mouth swabs, swab envelope, as well as a return envelope.Simply fill out the consent form, follow the step-by-step cheek swab instructions and send the completed consent forms and test swabs in the enclosed return envelope. Within six to nine weeks, participants will receive the results of their dog’s DNA test. These will include raw genetic data, a graphic depiction of the animal’s DNA plus information on how to interpret the results of this DNA test.”

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The YHRD Database

One of the steps in analyzing the results of a Y-DNA test is to search through Y-DNA databases to look for potential matches. These matches, depending on how well they match, might be relatives, either close or distant (in recent genealogical terms – we’re all distantly related, of course).

One of those databases is YHRD (Y-STR haplotype reference database). The project has two main goals:

  1. The generation of reliable Y-STR haplotype frequency estimates for minimal and extended Y-STR haplotypes to be used in the quantitative assessment of matches in forensic and genealogical casework, and;
  2. The assessment of male population stratification among world-wide populations as far as reflected by Y-STR haplotype frequency distributions

According to the YHRD website:

“To this end, a growing number of diagnostic and research laboratories have joined in a collaborative effort to collect population data and to create a sufficiently large reference database. All institutions contributing in this project, participated in an obligate quality control exercise.
“This database is interactive and allows the user the search for Y-STR haplotypes in various formats and within specified metapopulations. Related information i.e. STR characteristics, mutations, population genetic analyses etc. is documented.”

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