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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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For the First Time, a Human Receives (Almost) Entire Personal Genome!

watson_james.jpgAdmit it, you’re dying to get your hands on Watson’s genome, aren’t you? Who isn’t?! Yesterday James Watson was handed his sequenced genome on DVD from 454 Life Sciences. There’s a great press release from the Baylor College of Medicine where the ceremony took place.

In a very big day for genetics and human beings alike, Watson was the first person to be handed his entire genetic sequence (for those in the know, Venter only received some or most of his sequence according to most sources).

Amazingly, according to the press release, the genome was sequenced over two months for $1 million. Incredible, considering the Human Genome Project took years and billions of dollars, and even Venter’s project took $300 million.

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Warren Buffett, Jimmy Buffett, and 23andMe Continued

Earlier today I wrote about how 23andMe used genetic genealogy to confirm that Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett are not recently related via their Y chromosome. I also mentioned that this was a great way to introduce the company (as well as genetic genealogy) to the masses.

This evening I saw a story posted at The Motley Fool entitled “Warren Buffett is No Parrothead.” Similar to the story that I linked to this morning, it appears that the author is not familiar with genetic genealogy:

However, solving the Buffett mystery illustrates how a stake in 23andMe is a good fit in Google’s portfolio. The one thing that blows me away here is that a simple spit test was enough to uproot a family tree deep enough to find an ancestral link before surnames were even around.

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Famous DNA Review, Part III – Warren and Jimmy Buffett

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It turns out that 23andMe isn’t just a startup idea that’s waiting for technology to catch up.In 1999, Fortune Magazine posed the question, “Are Jimmy and Warren Buffett Related?”This week, 23andMe revealed the long-awaited answer, which is that the two Buffetts – well, let’s save that for the end.

Apparently Warren Buffett (finance guru) and Jimmy Buffett (musician), have always wondered if they are related to each other, potentially through a common ancestor who lived in a penal colony in the South Pacific.Earlier this year Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder of 23andMe, asked Jimmy and Warren if they would submit DNA for analysis.According to Warren Buffett’s assistant, he “just kept spitting into a little receptacle, and then we FedExed it.Not very elegant.”23andMe then did Y chromosome and mtDNA analysis of Warren and Jimmy’s DNA.

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Celebrity Genomes on DVD

As I mentioned recently, James Watson is about to be the first person to have his entire genomic information handed to him. According to this article in Today’s issue of the Observer, Watson “has decided to go ahead and have his entire genome put on the internet this week.” I’m not sure what the Observer used as its source – according to my research Watson hadn’t yet decided what he was going to do with the sequence. Update: A huge story from Newsweek states that Watson has decided to release his entire genome to a NIH database (minus the ApoE gene)!

I hope this gets lots of media coverage. This is a HUGE moment for genetics, one that we will all look back on. And I have to admit, I am very jealous of Watson’s opportunity! Here’s a great article on the subject, well worth a read!  Here are some highlights from the Observer article:

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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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Whoopi Goldberg’s DNA Testing Creates Ripples in Small African Nation

Whoopi Goldberg, like many others, is turning to DNA testing to learn more about her ancestry. Goldberg participated in the PBS program African American Lives which used DNA testing in conjunction with traditional genealogical research methods to elucidate the genealogy of famous African Americans (including, among others, Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Dr. Mae Jamieson). The results of Goldberg’s mtDNA testing has revealed that her maternal line descends from the Papel and Bayote tribes who are found in the tiny West African Nation of Guinea-Bissau. Her admixture test suggested that her ancestry was 92% sub-Saharan African and 8% European.As with all DNA testing, Goldberg’s results only examined a small fraction of her actual ancestry.

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