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 Â£1m Turnover.” The article mentions that Oxford Ancestors, created in 2000, is currently bringing in Â£ 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:
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“
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 customer is given direct access to all their test results.
Last week the NBC Nightly News had a three-part special series “Who We Are: The Truth About DNA.”
The first video, “Genealogy for Sale” (although it is spelled ‘geneology’!!), is a report from chief science correspondent Robert Bazell. Bazell follows a couple who experience genetic genealogy for the first time. He mentions the use of online websites and databases, including Sorenson and Genetree. In the two minutes of the piece, Bazell does a decent job of highlighting some of the benefits and limitations of genetic genealogy. Just below this video on the main page is a ‘web exclusive’ that continues the couple’s story a bit further.
The second video and third videos are interesting, but are not directly related to genetic genealogy. For anyone that might be interested in more, the Truth About DNA page at MSNBC has a number of interesting links and stories.
DNA Projects, often affiliated with a genetic genealogy testing company, are used to coordinate the testing and result analysis of individuals that have the same surname, originate from a common location, or have a comment set of ancestors. For example, I’ve started the Bettinger DNA Project for individuals with the “Bettinger” surname. An example of a project that hopes to analyze the DNA of a common set of ancestors is the Palantine DNA Project.
“Around 1709, the Rhineland-Palatinate region between what is now known as Germany and France was highly contested by each side. At least 13,000 residents left for Holland and London. The English sent them on to America where close to 300 families, led by the Reverend Joshua Kocherthal and the Reverend Johann Frederick Hager, settled in the Hudson River Valley, most noticeably in Saugerties, New York.”
Car manufacturer Buick and the Generation Network’s Ancestry DNA have joined together to offer contest winners the “chance to discover your heritage.” To enter this contest, just go to buick.ancestry.com. You’ll also find a short video there about the PBS series African American Lives 2.
Ten first-place winners with receive a free DNA test kit from Ancestry DNA. An additional 1,000 winners will receive a “Family History Kit” which includes a copy of Family Tree Maker Essentials software, a DVD of African American Lives (not sure if it is this year’s or last year’s) and a copy of “In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past.” I personally would enjoy either prize.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen suggest that a mutation that arose around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago was inherited by every individual who has blue eyes (original study here). This mutation, located within an intron in a gene called HERC2, reduces the activity of a neighboring gene called OCA2. The researchers located the same mutation in 155 blue-eyed individuals from Denmark as well as in 5 individuals in Turkey and 2 in Jordan. From ScienceDaily:
“‘Originally, we all had brown eyes,’ said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. ‘But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a ‘switch,’ which literally ‘turned of’ the ability to produce brown eyes.”
In honor of Black History Month, Anheuser-Busch – through the flagship Budweiser brand – announces a sweepstakes called “Discover Your History” in which a grand-prize winner and three guests will be given a trip to “their ancestral background as determined via genetic testing.” Nine other winners will receive “genetic genealogy testing and ancestral family tree research.”
The testing will be performed by AfricanDNA.com L.L.C., the company founded by Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in conjunction with Family Tree DNA.
From Anheuser-Busch’s press release:
â€œOne of the most basic human desires is to understand who we are and how our family is woven into the broader, historic context of humanity,â€ said Johnny Furr Jr., vice president, Community Affairs and Supplier Diversity for Anheuser-Busch, Inc. â€œWe at Budweiser are proud to offer a lucky family the chance to embark on this remarkable journey of discovery. We hope to inspire others to use todayâ€™s technology to learn about their ancestors and region of origin.â€
GenomeWeb Daily News announced on Friday that DNAPrint Genomics is being purchased by Nanobac Pharmaceuticals (I’ve written about DNAPrint here and here, including about their Doggie DNAPrint product). Here is the press release from Nanobac.
DNAPrint had a big year in 2007 with a number of partnerships and new products, and many people have forgotten or were unaware that the autosomal genetic genealogical tests offered by DNAPrint’s AncestrybyDNA are just a small part of the company’s business. From the Nanobac press release:
“DNAG’s primary objective has been, and Nanobac’s primary objective will be, to develop progressive theranostics drugs, which combine extensively modeled drugs with genomics-derived intelligence to create more economical and powerful drug/test combination products with superior performance parameters. DNAG’s flagship product, PT-401, is expected to result in more effective treatment of anemia, and its Protectin(TM) (CD-59) diagnostic test is expected to allow patients and their physicians to more effectively manage the risks and treatment decisions for diabetes. DNAG supports its clinical programs, in part, through the sale of consumer genetics tests genotyping services on a contractual basis.”
According to some sources, genetic genealogy testing rises considerably during February, which is Black History Month (as I wrote about last February). Part of this might be due to last year’s very popular TV show “African American Lives” on PBS. Starting next week (on the 6th) is the first half of the latest version of the show, “African American Lives 2.” I’ll be watching, and I think most of you will be interested in the show as well.
In anticipation of this series, Diverse Education has written an article entitled “The Value of Knowing Where You Come From.” The author of this article, Cassie Chew, recently interviewed me and a few of my quotes made it into the article. The article wonders if there is a possible genetic explanation for behaviors that run in families. For instance, one of Oprah’s ancestors appeared to have built a school on his land, and Oprah recently opened a school in South Africa. Is the appreciation of education genetic?