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The Genetic Mess in California – A Round-Up, and My Thoughts

On June 9, 2008, the California Department of Public Health sent cease and desist letters to 13 companies that offer genetic testing. According to the letters, the companies are in violation of certain sections of the Business and Professions Code of California, including offering “a clinical laboratory test directly to the consumer without a physician order” since such tests “must be ordered by a physician or surgeon” (according to these officials). Copies of the letters are available here. The companies receiving letters are:

  • 23andMe
  • CGC Genetics
  • deCODEme Genetics
  • DNA Traits
  • Gene Essence
  • HairDX LLC
  • Knome
  • Navigenics
  • New Hope Medical
  • Salugen
  • Sciona Inc
  • Smart Genetics
  • Suracell Inc

I’m entering this discussion late, although I’ve been watching with great interest. What I’ve noticed is that much of the discussion, both in the blogosphere and the media, is confusing or ignoring the fact that there are actually two questions involved here.

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Sequencing the Cacao Tree Genome

Although it’s not really genetic genealogy, this story was too interesting to pass up.

Mars food company announced on Friday that it is partnering with IBM and the Department of Agriculture to sequence and analyze the entire cocoa genome.Mars will provide more than $10 million and will make the sequencing and analysis results freely accessible through the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture.

Unfortunately for those of us that love chocolate, the cacao tree is under attack.According to an article in the Washington Post, “West Africa, which produces 70% of the world’s cocoa, has been hammered by bad weather in the past few years.”Additionally, the cocoa industry in Brazil has been almost completely destroyed by a fungus known as witches’ broom.

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TGG Interview Series VI – Ann Turner

Ann Turner has been a member of the genetic genealogy community since 2000, and during that time she has made great contributions to field (as will become obvious from her interview). According to her brief biography at the Journal of Genetic Genealogy:

Ann Turner is the founder of the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list at RootsWeb and the co-author (with Megan Smolenyak) of “Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree.” She received her undergraduate degree in biology in 1964 and her M.D. from Stanford University in 1970. In recent years, she developed software for neuropsychological testing and wrote utility programs for the PAF genealogy program. One of these utilities provided a way to split out all people in a database who were related via their mitochondrial DNA, six years before mtDNA tests were commercially available. The inspiration for this feature came from the (then) forward-looking predictions of Dr. Thomas Roderick, now associate editor of JoGG.

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TGG Interview Series V – Whit Athey

The name Whit Athey is undoubtedly very familiar to many genetic genealogists. Whit’s Haplogroup Predictor, used to predict an individual’s paternal haplogroup based on DNA test results, is one of the most valuable online (and FREE) tools for genetic genealogists.

Among Whit’s many contributions to the field, he is also the Editor (and frequent contributor) of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy. From his biosketch:

“Whit Athey is a retired physicist whose working career was primarily at the Food and Drug Administration where he was the chief of one of the medical device labs. He received his doctorate in physics and biochemistry at Tufts University, and undergraduate (engineering) and masters (math) degrees at Auburn University. For several years during the 1980s, he also taught one course each semester in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Maryland. Besides his interest in genetic genealogy, he is an amateur astronomer and has his own small observatory near his home in Brookeville, MD.”

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TGG Interview Series IV – Alastair Greenshields

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Today’s interview is with Alastair Greenshields, founder of the genetic genealogy testing company DNA Heritage. Alastair is also the founder of Ybase, a Y-DNA database. I recently wrote about a helpful and informative video series by Alastair for DNA newbies (see “New Videos for Genetic Genealogists“).

In today’s interview, I ask Alastair about his introduction to genetic genealogy, some of the ethical issues raised by the recent launches of personal genomics companies, and about the future of genetic genealogy.

TGG: How long have you been involved in genetic genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field? Have you undergone genetic genealogy testing yourself? Were you surprised with the results? Did the results help you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery? You founded DNA Heritage in 2003. What led you to create the company? Can you also tell us a little bit about Ybase?

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Interview Series III – Terry Barton

imageTerry Barton is co-founder of WorldFamilies.net (along with Richard Barton), a website devoted to helping genealogists host Surname, Geographic, or Haplogroup Projects and learn more about genetic genealogy. When I began the Bettinger Surname DNA Project, Terry helped me through the entire process of setting up the site. From the WorldFamilies website:

“Terry is co-founder of WorldFamilies.net, President of the Barton Historical Society (BHS) and Co-Leader of the 193 member Barton DNA Project. He is the “Line Leader” for the Thomas (1,2,3) Barton family of Stafford Co VA and for the David Barton married Ruth Oldham family. He has made a number of presentations about using DNA in Genealogy, the Barton DNA project and his great-grandparent’s “Barton House” and has written many articles for the BHS Newsletters and website.”

... Click to read more!

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Interview Series II – Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

image If you’ve ever even thought about testing your own DNA for genealogical purposes, then you are almost guaranteed to have heard of Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. Megan is the Chief Family Historian and North American spokesperson for Ancestry.com, as well as the co-founder of Roots Television, an online channel of genealogy and history-oriented programming. Additionally, Megan is the co-author of “Trace Your Roots With DNA”, the premiere book on genetic genealogy (the other co-author, Ann Turner, will be featured later in this series).

Megan blogs about genetic genealogy and other genealogical topics at Megan’s Roots World (which I highly recommend adding to your feed reader or daily reading list). In the following interview, Megan talks about her introduction to genetic genealogy, about the field as it stands today, and about some of the possible future directions of DNA testing.

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Interview Series I – Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA

image Genetic genealogy has been commercially available since 2000, and in the last 8 years many genealogists have used this new tool to learn about their ancestry. Over the course of the next two weeks, I will be sharing interviews I recently conducted with 9 individuals who have had a huge impact on the field of genetic genealogy. The list includes – in the random order that their interview will appear – Bennett Greenspan, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, Terry Barton, Alastair Greenshields, Whit Athey, Ann Turner, Katherine Hope Borges, Max Blankfeld, and Ana Oquendo Pabón.

Just a quick disclaimer about the list of interviewed individuals before I begin this series. Genetic genealogy has become the valuable tool that it is due to the efforts of many people, but I was not able to interview everyone (and some were unable to commit the time to do an interview). I apologize to anyone that should be on the list but isn’t.

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In Memoriam – Leo William Little

Last week the genetic genealogy community lost one of its treasured members, Leo W. Little.

Leo’s passing was announced on the GENEALOGY-DNA mailing list on Sunday evening. Since then, many members of that mailing list, the ISOGG Yahoo Group, and the DNA- ANTHROGENEALOGY Yahoo Group have expressed their sympathy to Leo’s family and expressed their admiration for his work and contributions to the field of genetic genealogy.

Leo was the administrator of at least two DNA Projects, including the null439 DNA Project, and the Little DNA Project. The null439 group was begun by Leo after he helped characterize the “Little SNP” in 2002, a SNP that is also called “L1″ or “S26″. In 2005 Leo posted an email to the GENEALOGY-DNA that explained the discovery of the SNP, which defines the R1b1b2a1c Haplogroup in the new 2008 ISOGG Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree (previously known as R1b1c9a). The L1 SNP causes the primers used by Family Tree DNA to analyze Y-STR repeats at DYS439 to fail to anneal, and thus no result is recorded for that locus (i.e., it is “null”). The result is recorded as a default 12 with a blue asterisk. Here is Leo’s description from the null439 page:

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TGG Accepted To The 9rules Network

9rules The Genetic Genealogist has been accepted to 9rules in the latest round of submissions! I’m honored to be accepted since 9rules is a collection of some of the best blogs around, and I hope that I can live up to the challenge. 9rules has a ‘technology’ community, but not a ‘science’ community; think there’s any chance they’ll start one? More news to come.

And don’t forget that starting next Tuesday I’m starting a great nine-part series of interviews with some of the biggest names in the field of genetic genealogy!