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A Critique of Genetic Ancestry Testing in Science Magazine

Gold StandardFive bioethicists have published a paper in today’s issue of Science – The Illusive Gold Standard in Genetic Ancestry Testing (paid subscription required) – calling for government regulation of genetic ancestry testing (aka genetic genealogy). There is an accompanying press release: Stanford Bioethicist and Colleagues Call for Federal Regulation of Genetic Ancestry Testing (another press release is available here).

Overall Thoughts

I highly respect the work of these authors, and I appreciate their efforts to educate the public about these issues. I do, however, wonder why the article was published in Science. The article mostly rehashes arguments found in a number of other articles (including from a very similar 2007 Science article (link) with some of the same authors) without adding any new research or supporting evidence. This is my greatest criticism of this and related articles – much of the … Click to read more!

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Family Tree DNA Discovers Y-DNA Signature That Might Represent the Prophet Mohammed

DNA An article in the United Arab Emirate newspaper The National (wikipedia) does a terrific job of highlighting recent research from Family Tree DNA.  The story – “DNA could illuminate Islam’s lineage” – discusses research that has attempted to elucidate the Y-DNA signature of Mohammed.  Although Mohammed did not have a son, he had a daughter who married her paternal second cousin, thus passing to Mohammed’s grandchildren the same Y-DNA.  From the article:

“For almost 1,600 years, the title Sharif, Sayyed, or Habib has been bestowed on Muslims who have been able to trace their roots back to the Prophet Mohammed through intricate family trees, oral histories and genealogical records. But now an American DNA lab says it may have identified the DNA signature of descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and perhaps the prospect of a direct, more accurate means of confirming or identifying such a connection.”

The caveat, as the story briefly mentions by the phrase “if their oral tradition is accurate”, is that no one has an authenticated DNA sample directly from Mohammed.  If there were, this type of research would not be needed.  Instead, the conclusion that it might be Mohammed’s Y-DNA is based on testing individuals who … Click to read more!

2

“You Can’t Handle the Truth” – an Article Arguing Against Increased Federal Regulation of DTC Genetic Testing

Alzheimer disease A recent article by Ronald Bailey in reasononline asks whether genetic tests actually need more federal regulation.  It’s probably clear that I strongly support the individual’s right to their own genetic information via DTC testing, but this viewpoint is rarely seen or endorsed in the press.  Bailey concludes:

“There may well be some inaccurate tests and there will certainly be people who mislead customers about the meaning of certain tests. But do we really need additional federal regulation to weed out bad actors? Most evidence suggests that the current tests are fairly accurate, and that customers are not being misled by the results that are reported. All new technologies involve a societal learning process in which some early adopters try it out, explain to others how it works, and find out its flaws—which newer innovators then fix.”

Accuracy of DTC Testing

The article also briefly discussed the accuracy of DTC testing (something I’ve covered here before – … Click to read more!

5

GeneTree and Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Team Up to Offer Y-DNA Participants of SMGF Database a Greatly Reduced Price on Genetic Profile

SALT LAKE CITY (May 26, 2009) – GeneTree and Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) today announced a special offer to the tens of thousands of men who donated their Y-DNA samples and pedigree information to the non-profit SMGF’s genetic genealogy database. At a deeply discounted price, participants now may access their Y-DNA profiles through GeneTree and employ the site’s extensive tools, including the SMGF database, to search and connect with genetic relatives.

SMGF has been building the database-the world’s most diverse collection of genetic genealogy information-since 2000 through donation of DNA samples and four-generation genealogy questionnaires by people interested in helping the foundation succeed in its goal of connecting the human family through genetic genealogy. … Click to read more!

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The Mystery of Benjaman Kyle (Powell?) – An Update

image In January I wrote about Benjaman Kyle, an amnesiac who was found on August 31, 2004 next to a dumpster behind a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia.  In that post, “Using Genetic Genealogy to Solve the Mystery of Benjaman Kyle,” I suggested that a Y-DNA test might be helpful in elucidating Mr. Kyle’s biological surname.  Y-DNA testing has shown to be highly useful for identifying unknown surnames (see here and here), and so I contacted Mr. Kyle to suggest the possibility.

The Results Are In

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Kyle took a 67-marker test from Family Tree DNA.  The results, announced it seems by Kimberly Powell of Kimberly’s Genealogy Blog, suggest that his surname might actually be POWELL or a variant thereof.  His results are now part of the Powell Surname DNA Project as kit #140314 where he very closely matches the “Joseph Powell … Click to read more!

16

DNAPrint Genomics Ceases Operations

dnaprintgIn February, I received a number of comments and emails which suggested that DNAPrint Genomics was not processing results and could not be reached by telephone.  DNAPrint was one of the first companies to offer ‘large-scale’ autosomal testing, although their tests were unable to compete with the testing currently offered by companies like 23andMe and deCODEme.

Indeed, the company has recently ceased operations.  From the site: “DNAPrint® Genomics, Inc. has regrettably ceased operations. We thank you for your support.”  As I wrote last February, the company was scheduled to be purchased by Nanobac Pharmaceuticals, but the deal fell through shortly thereafter.

GenomeWeb Announces DNAPrint’s Demise

From an announcement today at GenomeWeb … Click to read more!

1

Large-Scale Genetic Genealogy Privacy Concerns

thegeneticgenealogist1 I’ve been working on a presentation regarding the future of genetic genealogy, and one aspect of that future is the ability to trace DNA (SNPs, mutations, haplogroups, etc…) through recent history as the result of combining extensive genomic sequencing with massive family tree information.  Although the ability to do this will have many uses (both for genealogy and for personalized medicine), it will also raise a number of privacy issues, as a recent paper suggests.

A New Privacy Study

In “Inferential Genotyping of Y Chromosomes in Latter-Day Saints Founders and Comparison to Utah Samples in the HapMap Project,” author Jane Gitschier uses a combination of FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org) and Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (http://www.smgf.org/) to elucidate the Y-chromosome signature of two founders of the LDS Church.  Gitschier then used that information to determine whether … Click to read more!

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23andMe and mondoBIOTECH Announce Partnership

imageimage

23andMe and mondoBIOTECH announced at Davos (the World Economic Forum in Switzerland) today that they will work together to further the study of rare diseases.  According to the press release (below), mondoBIOTECH will identify individuals suffering from certain rare diseases and sponsor their enrollment in the 23andMe Personal Genome Service™.  Researchers will use the information collected to learn more about the potential causes of these rare diseases.

CNBC Video:

Linda Avey appeared on CNBC this morning to discuss the company and the partnership – see “It’s All in the Genes.”

The Press Release:

Davos, Switzerland – January 28th 2009 – 23andMe, Inc., an industry leader in personal genetics, and Mondobiotech AG, a Swiss research … Click to read more!

Stephen Pinker, The New York Times, and Counsyl

imageAlthough I can hardly hope to introduce or discuss these recent events any better than Daniel MacArthur has already given at Genetic Future, I will at least bring this new information to your attention.

Last Wednesday the New York Times printed “My Genome, My Self”, an article written by Stephen Pinker, one of the Personal Genome Project’s “First 10.”  In the article, Pinker talks about his experience with genome sequencing through the PGP.  It is especially interesting since Pinker analyzes the issue from the point of view of a psychologist.  I highly recommend reading this article if you are at all interested in personalized medicine or genetics.

Much of the article discusses the confusing results that are returned by genome/disease analysis, due to … Click to read more!

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Humans Entered the Americas in More Than One Wave

image An international team of researchers have concluded that humans entered the Americas from Asia along at least two different paths.  By studying two rare mtDNA haplogroups found in Native Americans – D4h3 and X2a – the researchers conclude that D4h3 spread into the Americans along the Pacific coast while X2a entered through the ice-free corridor between the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets.

From the Press Release:  “Six major genetic lineages account for 95 percent of Native American mtDNA and are distributed everywhere in the Americas,” said first author Ugo Perego, director of operations at SMGF. “So we chose to analyze two rare genetic groups and eliminate that ‘statistical background noise.’ In this way, we found patterns … Click to read more!