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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:

“While there are many theories about how genetic expression works on our personalities and health, there are few solid facts. Some tests, such as those for various kinds of developmental disabilities, have provable results. But many genetic tests, like those 23andme claim can reveal ‘athletic ability,’ are the biotech version of snake oil.”

Snake oil was used by the author … Click to read more!

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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 … Click to read more!

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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 … Click to read more!

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Genetic Genealogy and Black History Month

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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.”

The Pursuit of Happyness

Another great article is in Medill Reports, “DNA Traces African Past.” Christopher Gardner, the real-life story behind “The Pursuit of Happyness,” was recently given the results of an mtDNA analysis and genealogical study by African Ancestry. According to the analysis, Gardner’s mtDNA likely … Click to read more!

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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.

At … Click to read more!

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 … Click to read more!

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 … Click to read more!

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Bryan Sykes Interviewed By The UK’s Telegraph

Anyone who is interested in genetic genealogy has likely heard of Professor Bryan Sykes. Sykes is the founder of the genetic genealogy testing company Oxford Ancestors and author of very influential books such as Blood of the Isles, Adam’s Curse, and The Seven Daughters of Eve.

Sykes was recently interviewed by The Telegraph in an article entitled “Curiosity Drives the Gene Genie to a £1m Turnover.” The article mentions that Oxford Ancestors, created in 2000, is currently bringing in £ 1m year (USD $1.96million), which is an increase of 10 times its initial year! There is discussion of Sykes’ upbringing, and the difficulty in commercializing scientific research.

Lastly, Sykes discusses some future directions, including using genetic research to help solve crimes:

” ‘We have revolutionized genealogy in the last few years. If we reversed it there could be great forensic benefits. For example, if we took a sample of DNA from a crime scene we are able to predict a range of surnames that might match that of the offender,’ says Sykes.”

Hopefully there will always be a very clear, understandable, and bright division between … Click to read more!

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GINA – The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) is sponsoring the Save GINA contest. I’ve written about GINA before (see “GINA: A Primer“), which is legislation currently before the Senate the seeks to protect people from discrimination based upon their DNA. The legislation is on hold in the Senate (see my summary here and here).

From the ISOGG contest site:

“GINA is the acronym for “The Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act” a bill that has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and pending a vote in the Senate except that Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has placed a “hold” on the bill to stall it from being voted upon. You can read the politics involved in the following article in Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7180/full/451745b.html

To enter the contest, you must be a U.S. registered voter and must send an email or snail-mail letter to your state Senator requesting that the hold be removed (and send the email or letter to isogg@msn.com). There is a $150 gift basket which includes a DNA test.

Legislation like GINA has been introduced in Congress every one of the past few years, proving that it is an important topic that our representatives should be … Click to read more!

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Family Tree DNA Launches DNATraits, A New DNA Testing Company

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Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld [I apologize for the previous misspelling of Greenspan's and Blankfeld's names] of the genetic genealogy testing company Family Tree DNA have launched a new service called DNATraits to examine a customer’s DNA for evidence of genetic disease. According to the website, DNATraits:

“provides direct-to-consumer genetic data from tests conducted on individual DNA samples. DNATraits offers tests that are broader in scope and less expensive than any in the world, complete with a free consultation with our genetic counselors before testing (optional) and a free consultation after testing (required) to discuss your results.”

DNATraits claims that their service is different from other DNA testing companies, as explained in their comparison page. Notably, the process of returning the results to the consumer appears to be different from some other companies: the DNA results are returned to the “DNATraits medical doctor for review and confirmation” before being sent to a genetic counselor. The customer is then emailed and directed to set up a telephone appointment with the genetic counselor. After the consultation, the … Click to read more!