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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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Genetic Genealogy and the Amish

I am a genetic genealogist because I thought it would be a fun and interesting thing to do.Some people, however, are genetic genealogists because it is a matter of life and death.

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The Amish/Mennonites and Genetic Disorders

The Amish migrated from Europe (Germany/Switzerland) to the United States in the 1700s.One such group, the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, began with 200 Swiss immigrants.Today, there are roughly 200,000 Old Order Amish.Because of the difficult lifestyle, the lack of evangelism, and the language barrier, there is essentially no conversion to the Amish religion.In addition, marriage outside the community is forbidden.As a result, the community has remained closed for over 10 generations and is still using the same 200 genomes of their founders!This is known as founder effect, which means that a population is started by just a small number of individuals and as a result that new population will be different (both genetically and phenotypically) from the parent population, potentially with low genetic variation.

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Genetic Genealogy Used to Identify Lost Soldiers

An article in yesterday’s Mount Vernon News highlighted the use of genetic genealogy to identify POW’s from the Korean War who had died in North Korean detention facilities.

The Korean War Project, sponsored by the Department of Defense, uses genetic tests, especially mtDNA (because mtDNA is so hardy), to match remains to living family members. This type of identification has been used for years now.

One of the volunteers for the Project, Carol Kiley, has found 21 matches in the three months she’s been tracking down families.Ms. Kiley says that her background in genealogy helps her locate the families of missing soliders.

The article discusses the case of Pvt. Robert Wayne McNeil who served in F Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.He was captured as a POW on April 25, 1951, and died thereafter.Remains have been discovered that might be McNeil’s, and Ms. Kiley is attempting to locate a sister, niece, or female cousin for mtDNA testing.

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Using DNA to Reunite the Clan Gregor

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James Stuart, known as King James VI in Scotland and King James the I in England and Ireland, issued an edict in 1603 that abolished the surname MacGregor and declared that everyone named MacGregor or Gregor must renounce the name or suffer death, all in response to the murder of the King’s Forester, who himself had hanged some MacGregors for poaching. A bounty of 1,000 merks (apparently a great deal of money) was placed on the heads of the clan leaders, with 100 merks for other members of the clan.

This the origin of Rob Roy, also known as Red MacGregor, or Robert Roy MacGregor. For the next 200 years The Clan Gregor endured this persecution. Men were killed while women and children were sold into slavery in the New World. Finally, in 1774, the Act of Proscription against the clan was repealed.

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Border Reivers DNA Research

A study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the Center for Life in Newcastle, England discovered that only 50% of males with the last name Robson can be traced back to a recent single ancestor.The research, commissioned to create a new exhibit called “The Robson Encyclopedia,” compared 12 markers from the Y-chromosomes of 100 male volunteer Robsons.

Apparently the Border Reiver clan of the Robsons in the Tyne Valley was notorious in the 1600’s and was made famous in a book called “The Steel Bonnets” by George MacDonald Fraser.According to one site:

“The term Border Reivers describes a number of English and Scottish families who fought a seemingly endless series of bloody confrontations from the 13th Century to the mid 17th Century. Sheep stealing and burning each other’s homes were part of everyday Border Reiver life – they were rugged, tough people who lived by their own laws.”

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The Biggest Family Reunion Ever Based on Genetic Genealogy?

Yesterday The Jewish Press announced the “Kohen and Levi Conference: A Gathering of the Tribe.”The conference, to be held on July 15-19, 2007, is hosted in Jerusalem by The Center for Kohanim.The Center was founded in 1985 to “promote identity and knowledge among Kohanim the world over, and increase their feelings of awareness and commitment to their heritage as Kohanim.”The conference has a main page, a press release, and a brochure (pdf).According to the press release:

Recent scientific research and DNA testing has proven that today’s descendents of the biblical Kohanim are genetically related. Molecular geneticists have discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a Y- chromosome DNA lineage signature shared by a majority of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Kohanim. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present-day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, genetically dated to have lived approximately 3,300 years ago, a time corresponding to the Exodus from Egypt.

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The Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy

In case my readers were not aware, the Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy is now available. This free, open-access peer-reviewed journal has been around in the Spring of 2005 and offers recent news and analysis in the field of genetic genealogy. The current issue has the following articles:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Retirement, By T. Whit Athey, editor
Discussion of recent developments in the field as well as nomenclature issues.

Stacking the Deck: Mutation Rate in the mtDNA Coding Region, By Ann Turner
According to the article, “Genetic genealogists, who are obtaining full-sequence mtDNA tests in increasing numbers, are in a position to provide a “biased sample” for the study of the mutation rate in the coding region.”

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Famous DNA Review, Part II – Genghis Khan

In 2003, researchers from around the world released a paper that suggested that 8% of all Mongolian males have a common Y chromosome because they are the descendants of Genghis Khan (See “The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols,” 2003, Zerjal, et. al., American Journal of Human Genetics, 72: 717-721).The researchers examined the Y chromosome variability of over 2000 people from different regions in Asia and discovered a grouping of closely related lines.The cluster is believed to have originated about 1,000 years ago in Mongolia and its distribution coincides with the boundaries of the Mongol Empire.

Genghis Khan’s empire (he ruled from 1206 – 1227) stretched across Asia from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea and was reportedly extremely prolific.Khan’s son Tushi had as many as 40 sons.His grandson Kublai Khan is reported to have had as many as 22 sons, and perhaps many more.Together this family may have as many as 16 million descendants alive in Asia today.It is extremely important to note that until DNA can be extracted from Khan’s bones (which have never been found), there is no definitive proof that this Y chromosome cluster is actually descended from Genghis Khan.

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Famous DNA Review, Part I – Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, has been at the center of a DNA controversy for over 200 years.In September 1802 journalist James T. Callender wrote in Richmond Reporter that Jefferson had for many years “kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves.Her name is Sally [Hemmings].The name of her eldest son is Tom.His features are said to bear a striking though sable resemblance to those of the president himself.”Although these rumors had reportedly already been passed around quietly, this article spread the rumor far and wide, setting off many years of debate.

In 1998 analysis of a male descendant of Jefferson’s paternal uncle showed that Jefferson’ Y chromosome belonged to haplogroup K2 (Thomas Jefferson did not have any male descendants to provide DNA.For more information, see: “Jefferson fathered slave’s last child.” 1998. Nature 396 (6706): 27–28. PMID 9817200).Haplogroup K2 is rather rare, constituting just 1% of worldwide Y chromosomes (See “Thomas Jefferson’s Y chromosome belongs to a rare European lineage.” Am J Phys Anthropol 132(4): 584-9.PMID 17274013 ).Surprisingly, or perhaps not-so-surprisingly depending on which side of the debate you stood, a male descendant of Sally named Easton Hemmings possessed the same K2 chromosome, suggesting a genetic link between Jefferson and Easton.Keep in mind, however, that this is not determinative since it is possible that any of Jefferson’s male relatives (who possessed the same Y chromosome) could have fathered Easton.And keeping in mind that non-paternal events are ALWAYS a possibility, nothing is 100% certain.Not until we can time-travel and obtain DNA samples from the source!

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Are aboriginal Australians and New Guineans the modern-day descendants of the extinct species Homo erectus?

Some scientists have hypothesized that Australian aboriginals received a portion of their DNA from an ancient hominid species called Homo erectus, which for a short time was contemporaneous with modern man. A recent study published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences) set out to answer this question by analyzing mtDNA and Y-chromosome samples from aboriginals.

A total of 172 mtDNA and 522 Y-chromosome previously published and new sequences from aboriginal Australians and New Guineans were analyzed for mtDNA and Y-chromosome variation and were compared to the current world haplogroup tree. All of the mtDNA sequences were members of the M and N founder branches, and all of the Y-chromosome sequences fell into the C and F founder branches.

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