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€
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?
January 2008 has been another interesting and busy month for genetic genealogy and personal genomics. Keeping track of the latest developments can be a challenge, so I thought I’d do a brief round-up of some of the headlines that I thought were particularly interesting. Happy reading!
Hsien at Eye on DNA discusses the use of DNAWitness, a Bio-Geographical Ancestry analysis, to narrow the pool of potential suspects in a crime. This hotly debated test has been used in over 200 crimes. And am I the only one who thinks that DNAPrint Genomics needs to invest a little money to upgrade its web design? Hsien also highlights the genetic genealogy pages of Kevin Duerink, pages that I myself have found to be quite useful.
The DNA Network was full of news about 23andMe, Knome, and the newly-announced 1000 Genomes Project, which plans to sequence (can you guess?) 1,000 genomes from around the world. The 1GP will “receive major support from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, England, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) Shenzhen, China and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).” Source.
Here’s a brief roundup of all the latest regarding the 1GP:
Scienceroll, “Knome Begins Sequencing First Clients.” Remember that Knome is currently charging customers $350,000 to have their entire genome privately sequenced. As I recently commented at Eye on DNA, I think the price tag is too high in light of recent developments in technology. This is actually amazing, considering that $350,000 would have been a bargain in January 2007. Companies hoping to make money from sequencing are going to learn to act quickly and adapt even faster.
And last but not least, are you worried about hair loss? A new company called HairDX offers a test that will examine SNP(s) on the X-chromosome, but the specifics are extremely vague at the moment, including a lack of information on their website. For more information, see My Biotech Life, “HairDX – the genetic test for hair loss” and Eye on DNA, “HairDX – Genetic Test for Male Pattern Baldness (be sure to read the comments to see information from Dr. Ann Turner).”
Here are few of the latest sources of information or discussion about 23andMe:
Mark Fletcher at Wingedpig.com writes about some “23andMe Updates.” Fletcher notes that Andrew Scheidecker has written a program that will extract and download your own raw SNP data from 23andMe (http://www.scheidecker.net/personal-genome-explorer/). Scheidecker writes that the program doesn’t violate 23andMe’s terms of service, but I recommend confirming that for yourself before you use this program. Fletcher also links to Kevin Kelly at the Quantified Self, who writes “23andMe, Alzheimer’s disease, and ApoE.” Kelly notes (as has Fletcher) that the rs1702 and rs4420638 SNPs tested by 23andMe are resulting in “no call” for many individuals. These two SNPs are believed to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Remember, you heard it here first! The Houston Chronicle appears to have advance news that two companies, Family Tree DNA and Seqwright, are planning to launch products that will analyze DNA for genes associated with disease, similar to services offered by 23andMe and deCODEme. The news is casually mentioned in a news story published yesterday in that newspaper, and on one of the paper’s blogs.
In the first article, “Public Can Get Genes Tested“, there is a quote from Bennett Greenspan, president and chief executive of Family Tree DNA:
“[FTDNA is] betting that public demand will soar for health testing as well, despite the skepticism of some physicians. Greenspan said Family Tree will begin testing for specific disease genes in a month or two. ‘We’ve been peppered with requests from customers for this kind of service during the last 18 months,’ he said.”
A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Letting the Genome Out of the Bottle – Will We Get Our Wish?” is getting a lot of coverage elsewhere, but I thought I’d add my two cents. The report’s authors are largely concerned with quality control, clinical validity (the actual predictive value of genetic tests), and utility (the balance of family history and genetic testing) of genome scans offered by companies such as 23andMe, deCODEme, and Navigenics. They also suggest that people wait for the science to catch up before purchasing genome scans. There is an NEJM audio interview with Muin Khoury, one of the authors of the study about the subject. Note that this particular report is about medical implications of genetic testing, not about genetic genealogy (two very different topics that were very confusingly jumbled in the recent article “A High-Tech Family Tree” from U.S. News & World Report).
Genizon BioSciences, a private firm in Quebec with about 135 employees, has been awarded $31 million from the Dutch venture capital firm Biotechnology Turnaround Fund to uncover associations between genes and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
There are a number of companies concentrating on the correlation between genetics and disease, but the reason that Genizon BioSciences stood out to me is the source of the DNA that the company studies. Genizon uses DNA from descendants of the Quebec Founder Population. This population began with roughly 2,600 individuals who settled Quebec between 1608 and 1760 (although more than 15,000 French had immigrated to Quebec in this period, the vast majority continued to travel westward across Canada) and is estimated to be over 6 million people today. Genizon uses this unique population for a number of beneficial reasons, including: