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Genetic Genealogy Tidbits

Image created by Abizar Lakdawalla - fair use.

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This week I was quoted in the November issue of Wired Magazine about the use of autosomal DNA for genetic genealogy testing.

A Controversy

At “Adoptees use DNA to find surname,” Larry Moran at Sandwalk comments on my recent articles (here, here, and here) regarding the use of genetic genealogy (or genetic sequencing in general) test results to find unknown biological parents.  Although Dr. Moran accuses me of being a “cheerleader” who is blind to any ethical concerns associated with using DNA to find biological parents, he obviously didn’t do his research!  Less than a month ago I wrote this on the blog:

“For most people, being able to identify your own ancestors based on your own DNA poses few if any ethical dilemmas. However, what if your neighbor or your stalker or even law enforcement wants to use a sample of your DNA to identify your ancestors? Additionally, what if your living ancestor doesn’t wish to be identified? Does the ancestor have that right, or is possible identification through genetic genealogy just one of the consequences of parenting a child anonymously or simply having sex with another person?”

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Article Review: “Bio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry”

I just finished reading an article by Alondra Nelson in the journal Social Studies of Science entitled “Bio Science: Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry” (Social Studies of Science 2008 38: 759-783).  Dr. Nelson is Assistant Professor of Sociology, African American Studies and American Studies at Yale University.

This very interesting and insightful article aligns with my own premise, which I’ve stated previously, that receiving the results of a genetic genealogy test is only the beginning of the journey for any individual interested in their own identity or genealogy.

Based on her research in this area, Dr. Nelson writes about the complex interpretation of the results of genetic genealogy testing by African-Americans and black British.  Rather than completely altering their preconceived biographical narratives based on the results of testing, many people struggle to mesh genetic results with these narratives.  From the abstract:

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Personal Genome Project Begins Releasing Information

image The Personal Genome Project (PGP) was established to analyze and publicly share the genomes and personal information of up to 100,000 volunteers in order to advance understanding of “genetic and environmental contributions to human traits and to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.”  In the first phase of the PGP, ten volunteers (the “First 10″ – see information about the First 10 here on my blog and at the PGP website) have had their DNA analyzed and have given their personal information.

Last month, George Church, the PGP’s principal investigator, reported that the project expected to publish data about the First 10 on its website in mid- to late October.  Church might have meant genotype (i.e. sequencing) information, since some information about phenotype, health history, and medication has already been posted on the PGP website.  There is information about each of the 10 participants, although there is currently no active link to their genetic information:

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Complete Genomics Will Sequence Your Entire Genome for $5,000 Starting in 2009

Andrew Pollack at the New York Times wrote an article published today entitled “Dawn of Low-Price Mapping Could Broaden DNA Uses.”  The article is about a start-up company called Complete Genomics which will begin sequencing customer’s genomes for $5,000 starting in the second quarter of 2009.  From the article:

“Complete Genomics will not begin its service until the second quarter of next year. By then, the cost of competing technologies will no doubt have fallen further. Just last week, Applied Biosystems, a leading manufacturer, said it expected that its newest machine would allow a human genome to be sequenced for $10,000, although that includes only the cost of consumable materials, not labor or the machinery.”

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The $1,000 Genome by the End of 2009?

On December 30th, 2007, I blogged the following:

“[A]ffordable whole-genome sequencing is getting closer and closer every day (my prediction – which is based solely on my own educated guess – is that I will be able to sequence my entire genome for $1,000 or less by the end of 2009).”

It was pretty bold at the time, and I’ve since wondered if I was too optimistic, but now comes news that at least one other person agrees with my prediction.  Harvard professor and genetics researcher George Church – also principal investigator for the Personal Genome Project (PGP) – stated at two conferences, one last week and one this week, that by mid-October of 2008, 36-fold coverage of the human genome will be available for $5,000.  Church went on to say that the $1,000 human genome will be available by the end of 2009.

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Gene Genie #37: Human Genomes Are a Dime a Dozen

image Welcome to the September 14, 2008 edition of Gene Genie!  Bloggers have begun to pick up posting with the end of summer, and it seems like everyday there’s a bunch of new interesting posts about the human genome.

96well at Reportergene presents “Trends in development of reporter genes.”  Reportergene is also looking for bloggers/reporters to join the blog’s community and help create the “main repository of news and tools for reportergenomists.”  See here for more information.

fightingfatigue presents » Have Japanese Researchers Found Diagnostic Tool for ME/CFS? posted at Fighting Fatigue.  According to a study discussed in the article, there might now be a test able to diagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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Follow-Up to 23andMe’s Price Drop

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Yesterday I wrote about 23andMe’s decision to lower their price to $399 (down from $999) while adding more genealogically-relevant SNPs and partnering with Ancestry.com.  Although I don’t have any further information about the new SNPs, I’ve seen a couple of interesting articles about the price drop around the blogosphere.

Aaron Rowe at Wired science writes “Human Genetics is Now a Viable Hobby.”  He notes that the new price is “well within the reach of cash-strapped grad students, frugal genealogy buffs and other not-so-early adopters.”  The comment thread is an interesting read as well.

“Cheap as chips”

Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future writes “Cheap as chips: 23andMe slashes the price of personal genomics” at his new scienceblogs location.  Daniel also notes that the updated product “will certainly be popular with genetic genealogists” because of the addition of Y-DNA and mtDNA SNPs, and agrees with my hypothesis that other companies will follow suit and lower their prices.  Daniel also mentions the Personalized Medicine Collaborative (PMC) at the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which is offering free personal genome scans to 10,000 individuals this year.

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23andMe Lowers Price to $399 and Adds More Genealogical SNPs

logo 23andMe just announced that the price of their service has dropped from $999 to $399.  According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the company lowered the price of testing to attract more customers and increase the size of their database.  The article maintains that 23andMe will still bring in profit from the lower membership price, which is made possible by a “new, higher-density gene-scanning chip made by Illumina Inc. of San Diego.”  From the press release:

“The new Beadchip, called the HumanHap550-Quad+, makes use of a four-sample format. 23andMe also has added improved custom content to the new Beadchip, which will include a broader range of Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) variations and rare mutations not found on the previous Beadchip, thereby providing more relevant data on published associations, as well as maternal and paternal ancestry.”

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Knome Delivers First Genomic Sequencing

Knome, a personal genomics company that launched within the past year, has just delivered the first genomic sequencing to customers according to a report in the MIT Technology Review.

After paying $350,000 for sequencing, customers receive their genetic sequence on an 8-gigabyte USB drive in an engraved silver box.  The USB is encrypted and contains special genome browsing software.

For the first time in history, it is unclear how many complete human genomes have been sequenced by scientists.  Prior to Knome, we knew exactly how many had been completed.  Now, and probably ever after, genomes will be sequenced and analyzed without all the typical fanfare and press releases.  Instead of just 2 or 3 genomes, there will soon be tens of genomes, then hundreds, and then thousands.

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Interview with Forensic Genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, Ph.D. Part II

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Yesterday I posted the first part of a two-part interview with Colleen Fitpatrick, a forensic genealogist.  In that interview, we discussed Colleen’s participation in a project to identify the remains located at a military crash site from 1948.

Today, we discuss her work on identifying the Titanic’s Unknown Child, among other projects.

The Genetic Genealogist:  On April 17, 1912, two days after the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic, the salvage vessel Mackay Bennett discovered the body of a young boy. The sailors paid for a monument, and the boy was buried in Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 2008, after an initial false identification based on dental records, the boy was identified as Sidney Leslie Goodwin. You were part of the team that identified Sidney. Can you tell us about that experience?

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