Genetic Genealogy in Brazil

The BBC has an article about genetic genealogy testing of nine celebrities in Brazil for a project called Afro-Brazilian Roots by the Brazilian Service of the BBC. These lucky individuals received Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal testing, and most were surprised with the large proportion of European genealogy revealed by the tests.

“Brazil has more people with black ancestry than any other nation outside Africa, and its mix of Indians, Africans and Europeans gave rise in the past to the claim that the country was a ‘racial democracy.’ ”

“No one is pure in Brazil. That’s why the country has the face of the future,” said Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., coordinator of a similar project in the U.S.”

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Wireless Healthcare

Wireless Healthcare, a company based in England, recently released a report entitled “Wireless Based Disease Management: Google, Microsoft and IBM in the Healthcare Market.” Naturally, I can’t read this report because it costs almost $400 USD. I noticed it, however, because it addresses the impact of online availability of genomic/genetic testing results. Specifically, the report addresses (at least I believe it does!) the advisability of online advertising displayed alongside health care records.

According to news releases and a blog post:

“Wireless Healthcare forecast patients gaining access to their genetic profile and managing their health using an online patient record, but they expressed doubts about the efficacy of banner advertisements as revenue model for companies that offer such services.”

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James Sorenson, Founder of Sorenson Genomics

There’s a great article in last week’s USA Today about James Sorenson, the billionaire founder of Sorenson Genomics.  It’s a great read, full of information about this interesting visionary.

The only thing I didn’t like was the picture of Mr. Sorenson touching the human femur being tested in the forensic DNA lab – the scientist in me grimaced at the potential contamination!

(Thanks to Hsien for the link!)

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DNA IS a Big Deal

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Last Thursday, Michael Neill, a noted genealogist and author of rootdig.com, posted an article entitled “Is DNA That Big of a Deal?”

Mr. Neill, who states that he is “tired of all they hype” writes:

“While I admit there are times where DNA analysis can be helpful, in the vast majority of cases DNA does not provide the type of relationship precision we need. Knowing that two people are related “somehow” “somewhere” “an unknown number of generations back” is typically not the kind of information genealogists need.”

He also believes that instead of spending money and effort on genetic genealogy, researchers should be digitizing and preserving records.

I agree with much of what Mr. Neill says – DNA doesn’t always work, DNA isn’t for all genealogists, and genealogists MUST help preserve endangered records.But, unfortunately, paper records don’t hold all the answers.I’ve always believed that genetic genealogy works best when it is combined with traditional genealogical research.Inside each one of my three trillion cells are a few strands of DNA that serve as records of their own – why shouldn’t genealogists get excited when exploring the most personal record they’ll ever find?

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“Genetic Genealogy and the Ancestries of African Americans” at the U of C

On June 28, the University of Chicago’s Newberry Library presented a panel discussion entitled “Genetic Genealogy and the Ancestries of African Americans” with Rick Kittles.In addition to being an associate professor of medicine at the University, Mr. Kittles is also the science director of AfricanAncestry.com.

The panel also included Christopher Rabb, a genealogist.The two discussed the difficulties facing African Americans who are interested in discovering their roots.After exhausting paper records, Mr. Rabb used DNA testing to learn more about his paternal and maternal lineages.

Despite the successes of genetic genealogy, “[b]oth Rabb and Kittles recognized that genetic testing for ancestry complicates the history and social reality of race in the United States,” noting that 30% of African Americans descend from Europeans.

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The Genographic Project Public Participation Mitochondrial DNA Database

The Genographic Project is probably the largest genetic genealogy project in the world. For $99, the project will sequence seqments of either your mtDNA or your Y chromosome for addition into their publicly available database. The goal of the project, with ten research centers around the world, is to “map humanity’s genetic journey through the ages,” and to “address anthropological questions on a global scale using genetics as a tool.” There has been a huge response to this project, and they just released their first research paper using the results they have collected to date:

“Family Tree DNA is proud to announce that the first paper resulting from data collected through the Genographic Project has been published today at the PLOS GENETICS.“The Genographic Project Public Participation Mitochondrial DNA Database” can be found at http://genetics.plosjournals.org and it will be uploaded to the Family Tree DNA public library as well.

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DNA Testing Offered to Participants of the Slave Descendants Freedom Society Seminar Series

Two companies recently teamed up to offer their services to families with roots in the African Diaspora.Slave Descendants Freedom Society and Diversity Restoration Solutions are bringing a seminar series to 50 cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe titled “Restoring African American Families Using Genealogy and History.”The seminar will focus on topics such as slavery in America, the importance of African American family genealogy as it relates to slavery, and 13 steps to restoring a family with genealogy and history.According to a recent press release:

“This interactive seminar series is a stepping stone in that it seeks to help African Americans find their self identity, understand the benefits of restoring the core family base, and move forward in leveraging resources as a people,” said Sheppard, author of “Ancestor’s Call,” a genealogy and historical accounting of the Grandy family and Moses Grandy, an ancestor whose story was originally told in a rare 1843 slave narrative. “It’s important that we lay the foundation for generations coming after us; our children and grandchildren need to know who they are in order to receive their inheritance. This seminar honors the contributions of our ancestors but with an emphasis that this recognition should not occur just during Black History Month, but as a way of life, everyday. Participants will come away with a greater understanding of themselves, an action plan for tracing their family tree and hopefully a stronger appreciation for family and desire to pay it forward in their community.”A pdf brochure is available.

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BRCA2 as a Cycle Path in Cambridge

Today represents a brief break from genetic genealogy, in a way, but I thought the topic was interesting enough to talk about.

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BRCA2 (Breast Cancer Type 2 susceptibility protein) is a tumor suppressor gene involved in the repair of DNA damage.BRCA2 binds to and regulates another protein (the product of the RAD51 gene) to fix DNA breaks caused by any number of factors.BRCA2 was discovered in 1995 by Professor Michael Stratton and Dr. Richard Wooster in cooperation with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

To date, researchers have identified 450 different mutations in the BRCA2 gene, some of which unfortunately cause an increased risk of cancer.Typically, the mutated gene produces an abnormally short protein that is unable to help the cell fix DNA breaks.Thus, mutations can accumulate and eventually lead to cancer (breast, ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic).

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23andMe in the News

A June 18th article from MSNBC about online family trees and social networking revealed another tidbit about 23andMe. According to the article (and no source of the information is given), 23andMe “plans to charge $1,000 for an extensive genetic profile and features to help track down lost relatives.”

I’m not exactly sure what that means. Are distant cousins lost relatives? Or is the unknown birth mother of an adopted child a lost relative? Given 23andMe’s interest in genetic genealogy, I’m guessing that it’s for general interest, rather than just for people looking for birth parents. Or perhaps they’re doing both – it’s really not much of a difference. It’s all about building a database, of course. Without the ability to compare results to a database, the usefulness of DNA testing for genealogical purposes can still be informative but is limited.

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