I also saw a recent story in the IndyStar called “Unearthing Their Roots“, about African Americans using DNA in an attempt to identify their ancestral origin.Â Although this exact topic has been very popular in the press this year, this article is more balanced than some.
By the way, I would like to remind everyone that Roots Television is a great resource for anyone who might be interested in genetic genealogy, or genealogy in general.Â I especially enjoy seeing interviews and presentations from conferences that I am unable to attend.Â It’s a wonderful resource.
In the article, Mr. Elgan imagines an enormous future database that combines traditional genealogical records and DNA to link everyone together.Â Two individuals could then, for instance, search the database to find their closest relationship to each other.Â My first thought, of course, is of privacy issues and plain old bad genealogical data (of which the internet is full).
I’ve spoken before about the enormous effect that affordable SNP and whole-genome sequencing will have on genetic genealogy. In that previous article, I mentioned a study using SNP analysis to identify a person’s ancestry based on autosomal DNA (all the nuclear non-sex DNA). Another study, released today inPLoS Genetics, used SNP chips to identify SNP markers that are characteristic of a certain ancestral origins. According to the authors:
“We have developed a novel algorithm to identify a subset of SNP markers that capture major axes of genetic variation in a genotypic dataset without use of any prior information about individual ancestry or membership in a population.”
To accomplish this, the researchers:
“…studied here 274 individuals from 12 populations (20 Mbuti, 20 Mende, 22 Burunge, 42 African Americans, 42 Caucasians, 20 Spanish, 11 Mala, 20 East Asians, 20 South Altaians, 20 Nahua, 20 Quechua, and 19 Puerto Ricans). Three of these populations are admixed (Caucasians, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans). All individuals were typed using the 10K Affymetrix array.”
In todayâ€™s Washington Post thereâ€™s a story about The Boy in the Iron Coffin.This coffin was accidentally discovered by a construction crew in Washington, D.C. in 2003.Research conducted by the Smithsonianâ€™s Museum of Natural History discovered that the body inside, still wearing a white burial suit, was that of William T. White, about age 15.William, who appears to have had a heart defect that would have made him sickly, died on January 23, 1852:
â€œThe boy was extremely well preserved and clad in white cotton clothing that included a pleated shirt and vest with cloth-covered buttons, flared trousers, darned socks and ankle-length underdrawers.â€
According to the article, the body â€œhad been buried in a cemetery that probably belonged to Columbian College, the precursor to GeorgeWashingtonUniversity, in what is now Columbia Heights, and had been a student at the college preparatory school when he died.â€
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 Panamaâ€™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.”
Commercially available genetic genealogy isn’t just for Americans and Europeans anymore. Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences, centered in Dubai, recently sent me an email announcing their new venture into the field of genetic genealogy testing.
Although it wasn’t apparent from the email that I received, Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences has partnered with Family Tree DNA to offer genetic genealogy testing. The following sentence comes from a press release at i-newswire: “Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences is proud to be associated with Family Tree DNA to create a database for the Middle Eastern population.”
From the Email:
“Dubai: 09/12/2007-Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences is set to launch a new Wall Chart of DNA Ancestry services to the people of the Middle East to help them invent their deep ancestors from 150,000 years ago. The roots of this tree lie more than 100,000 years in the past, at a time when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were living in Africa. As the branches of the tree multiply, they record the history of our species and the dramatic stories of how pioneering groups of humans explored and populated our planet. The different journeys they made shaped the world we know today.
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 â€œhow the country became populated over thousands of yearsâ€ by filling in the gap in current DNA databases.
Misha Angrist wrote about the implications of personal genome sequencing in â€œWarts and all.â€
I think most everyone would agree that affordable whole-genome sequencing will be around long before we understand the information it reveals.I asked another member of The DNA Network, The Gene Sherpa his opinion on the matter.Genome Technology Online also thought it was an interesting discussion.And by the way, the Genome Technology Onlineâ€™s daily newsletter is a great way to stay up-to-date.
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 (â€œ23andMe and Illumina Forge Consumer Genomics Goliathâ€) that they have partnered together to offer â€œconsumer genotypingâ€ – more about that in a minute.Illumina produces â€œSNP chipsâ€, 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.
A very interesting article in the New Scientist published last week by Peter Aldhous examines the approach of affordable whole-genome sequencing. The article mentions 23andme, the recently published genomes of James Watson and J. Craig Venter, and the Personal Genome Project.
“Thanks to the advances in sequencing technology, that might be done for as little as $1000 per person. â€œDNA chipsâ€, meanwhile, can scan your genome for common â€œspelling mistakesâ€ for just a few hundred dollars. At that price, the era of personalised genomics is already dawning. â€œThis is the year,â€ claims [Dr. George] Church.”
Mr. Aldhous’ article doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff either. Although I could potentially obtain my entire genomic sequence if I had $1 million lying around, very little of the information would be interpretable. We still have so very much to learn about our DNA. A great quote comes from Michael Egholm of 454 Life Sciences: