Anyone who is interested in genetic genealogy has likely heard of Professor Bryan Sykes. Sykes is the founder of the genetic genealogy testing company Oxford Ancestors and author of very influential books such as Blood of the Isles, Adam’s Curse, and The Seven Daughters of Eve.
Sykes was recently interviewed by The Telegraph in an article entitled “Curiosity Drives the Gene Genie to a Â£1m Turnover.” The article mentions that Oxford Ancestors, created in 2000, is currently bringing in Â£ 1m year (USD $1.96million), which is an increase of 10 times its initial year! There is discussion of Sykes’ upbringing, and the difficulty in commercializing scientific research.
Lastly, Sykes discusses some future directions, including using genetic research to help solve crimes:
The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) is sponsoring the Save GINA contest. I’ve written about GINA before (see “GINA: A Primer“), which is legislation currently before the Senate the seeks to protect people from discrimination based upon their DNA. The legislation is on hold in the Senate (see my summary here and here).
From the ISOGG contest site:
“GINA is the acronym for “The Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act” a bill that has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and pending a vote in the Senate except that Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has placed a “hold” on the bill to stall it from being voted upon. You can read the politics involved in the following article in Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7180/full/451745b.html“
Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld [I apologize for the previous misspelling of Greenspan’s and Blankfeld’s names] of the genetic genealogy testing company Family Tree DNA have launched a new service called DNATraits to examine a customer’s DNA for evidence of genetic disease. According to the website, DNATraits:
“provides direct-to-consumer genetic data from tests conducted on individual DNA samples. DNATraits offers tests that are broader in scope and less expensive than any in the world, complete with a free consultation with our genetic counselors before testing (optional) and a free consultation after testing (required) to discuss your results.”
DNATraits claims that their service is different from other DNA testing companies, as explained in their comparison page. Notably, the process of returning the results to the consumer appears to be different from some other companies: the DNA results are returned to the “DNATraits medical doctor for review and confirmation” before being sent to a genetic counselor. The customer is then emailed and directed to set up a telephone appointment with the genetic counselor. After the consultation, the customer is given direct access to all their test results.
Last week the NBC Nightly News had a three-part special series “Who We Are: The Truth About DNA.”
The first video, “Genealogy for Sale” (although it is spelled ‘geneology’!!), is a report from chief science correspondent Robert Bazell. Bazell follows a couple who experience genetic genealogy for the first time. He mentions the use of online websites and databases, including Sorenson and Genetree. In the two minutes of the piece, Bazell does a decent job of highlighting some of the benefits and limitations of genetic genealogy. Just below this video on the main page is a ‘web exclusive’ that continues the couple’s story a bit further.
The second video and third videos are interesting, but are not directly related to genetic genealogy. For anyone that might be interested in more, the Truth About DNA page at MSNBC has a number of interesting links and stories.
Thanks to Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and her team at Roots Television, I am able to offer an assortment of incredibly interesting videos about DNA and DNA testing here at The Genetic Genealogist! If you click on the link here you’ll be taken to the new page with the permanent video player (with more videos being added all the time!). This new feature will be readily available to everyone at any time by clicking on the link in the header labeled “Roots Television – The DNA Channel”.
Right now there are videos about three different genetic genealogy success stories. Unfortunately, genetic genealogy has received a bit of bad press lately, and many people are unaware that the tool has been used by hundreds (if not thousands) of people to examine and answer important genealogical questions. As I’ve said many times, genetic genealogy goes best when it goes hand-in-hand with traditional genealogical research.
Jesse Woodson James, born September 5, 1847 and died April 3, 1882, was an infamous American outlaw. Despite strong evidence that James was killed on April 3, 1882, some theorized that his death was staged and that he in fact survived to father additional children.
In 1995, researchers set out to use relatively new DNA analysis to examine the rumors surrounding James’ death. They exhumed the body believed to be that of James from the Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Nebraska. Although the remains were poorly preserved, the scientists were able to obtain DNA from two of four teeth. They also had DNA from two hairs that were recovered in 1978 from James’ original burial site on the James farm.
The mtDNA HVR1 sequence from the teeth and hairs were identical and belonged to Haplogroup T2, with 5 mutations relative to the CRS (16126C, 16274A, 16294T, 16296T, and 16304C).
DNA Projects, often affiliated with a genetic genealogy testing company, are used to coordinate the testing and result analysis of individuals that have the same surname, originate from a common location, or have a comment set of ancestors. For example, I’ve started the Bettinger DNA Project for individuals with the “Bettinger” surname. An example of a project that hopes to analyze the DNA of a common set of ancestors is the Palantine DNA Project.
“Around 1709, the Rhineland-Palatinate region between what is now known as Germany and France was highly contested by each side. At least 13,000 residents left for Holland and London. The English sent them on to America where close to 300 families, led by the Reverend Joshua Kocherthal and the Reverend Johann Frederick Hager, settled in the Hudson River Valley, most noticeably in Saugerties, New York.”
Many people do not realize that the genetics of the future will rely heavily on the work done by previous, current, and future generations of genealogists. Researchers hoping to uncover links between a disease and a particular gene or mutation often recruit entire families or use compiled genealogical databases for information. Just a few of the recent examples of researchers benefiting from the work of genealogists include:
- Genizon BioSciences will examine genetic diseases using DNA from descendants of the Quebec Founder Population;
- A mutation believed to increase the risk of colon cancer was traced to a single family in the early 1600’s;
- A recent study pinpointing the mutation responsible for blue eyes used data from the Copenhagen Family Bank, and;
- Numerous studies published by deCODE, a company that uses an exclusive database of Icelandic genealogy (80% of all Icelandic people who have ever lived can be traced on family trees).
In honor of the contributions that genealogists have and will make to scientist’s understanding of the genetic basis of disease, and in honor of the many unique and well-written genealogy blogs, I created The Genealogists, a Feedburner network (subscribe via RSS here). The network, which helps unite genealogy bloggers and introduce new blogs to readers, currently has 18 members:
Car manufacturer Buick and the Generation Network’s Ancestry DNA have joined together to offer contest winners the “chance to discover your heritage.” To enter this contest, just go to buick.ancestry.com. You’ll also find a short video there about the PBS series African American Lives 2.
Ten first-place winners with receive a free DNA test kit from Ancestry DNA. An additional 1,000 winners will receive a “Family History Kit” which includes a copy of Family Tree Maker Essentials software, a DVD of African American Lives (not sure if it is this year’s or last year’s) and a copy of “In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past.” I personally would enjoy either prize.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen suggest that a mutation that arose around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago was inherited by every individual who has blue eyes (original study here). This mutation, located within an intron in a gene called HERC2, reduces the activity of a neighboring gene called OCA2. The researchers located the same mutation in 155 blue-eyed individuals from Denmark as well as in 5 individuals in Turkey and 2 in Jordan. From ScienceDaily:
“‘Originally, we all had brown eyes,’ said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. ‘But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a ‘switch,’ which literally ‘turned of’ the ability to produce brown eyes.”