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Genetic Genealogy in the Classroom

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Forty advanced placement science students at Soldan International High School in St. Louis have submitted their DNA for testing with the National Geographic Society’s Genographic project. An article in the St. Louis-Post Dispatch highlights some of the statements made by the students and faculty:

“Many times students don’t see the relevance of what they’re learning,” said Assistant Principal Alice Manus, the Soldan project coordinator. “What they’re learning here will have all sorts of relevance because, really, we’re looking into their lives.”

One student, named John, had more reason to be excited about this test than most – his father died when he was only 13. “I never knew him that well,” said the Soldan sophomore. “Maybe this will tell me more about who he was and where he came from.”

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Genetic Genealogy Eliminates Two As Descendants of Joseph Smith

Update: Ugo Perego is not affiliated withh the website mentioned in the last two sentences.

Did Joseph Smith father children with any of his plural wives? The Deseret News has a lengthy article about recent efforts by a geneticist to answer the long-debated question about the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Ugo Perego, the director of operations at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, has used genetic genealogy in an attempt to identify or rule out potential descendants of Smith. In 2005, Perego showed that three males were not descendants of Smith, and new testing has shown that two more alleged descendants of Smith are not his true descendants.

In order to rule out descendants, it was first necessary to characterize the Y-DNA thought to belong to Joseph Smith. According to the article:

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True ‘Roots’ – Update on Chris and Alex Haley’s Y-DNA

The 24-7 Family History Circle has an update on a story I wrote about few weeks ago (Chris and Alex Haley’s DNA). Chris Haley, the nephew of author Alex Haley, recently agreed to submit DNA for a Y-DNA test. Like his uncle, Haley is very interested in genealogy and his ancestry.

According to the article, which was written by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, the Haleys were already fairly certain of their ancestry: “to the best of the family’s knowledge, the progenitor of the Haley line was of European origin, not African.” Indeed, the results show that the Haley Y-DNA belongs to Haplogroup R1b, a traditionally European haplogroup. My favorite part of this article, and one that many of my readers might find interesting, are all the suggestions regarding future directions that Haley can take to learn more about his ‘roots’ (sorry, I had to). Interestingly, Haley already has an anonymous 46-marker match in the DNA Ancestry database.

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Navigenics – A Personal Genomics Start-Up

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Last week, the genomic start-up company Navigenics issued a press release introducing their team of advisors and investors, and announcing $25 million in financing. There was an accompanying story in the Wall Street Journal, “Is There a Heart Attack in Your Future?” According to the article, the tests that will eventually be offered by Navigenics have already been tested by at least one of the company’s co-founders:

“David Agus, a cancer researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who is a co-founder of the company, says he took the test and found he had a 68% risk of having a heart attack in his lifetime, compared with about 40% in the general population. His kids, he says, now help him stay away from French fries. “I’m a believer in empowerment,” he says.”

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The Genetic Genealogy Market, Part II

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Yesterday, I looked at the size of the Genetic Genealogy market, and concluded that as of November 2007, there had been as many (or perhaps ‘at least’) 600,000 to 700,000 genetic genealogy tests performed, with 80,000 to 100,000 new tests per year. As the footnoteMaven mentioned, it might be interesting to see if we could turn those numbers into dollar amounts.

The following is a very rough attempt to translate the numbers into market value, with the following caveats: (1) I am not an economist, and I haven’t taken an economics class since high school; (2) the numbers do not take into account testing upgrades, which are offered by a number of companies; (3) the numbers do not take into account sequencing of the entire mitochondrial genome, specialized allele tests, or combination tests (e.g. Y-DNA and mtDNA) and; (4) the average cost of testing only reflects the companies included in yesterday’s accounting, and do not include the free SMGF test.

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How Big is the Genetic Genealogy Market?

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I was recently having a discussion with someone about the size of the genetic testing market, and I mentioned the number of people who had already paid for genetic genealogy testing. This oft-repeated number, 460,000, is the addition of two figures from a short 2006 EMBO article (“Genetic Genealogy Goes Global” EMBO 1072 (2006)):

  1. “Companies such as Oxford Ancestors, Family Tree DNA and DNAPrint Genomics have attracted more than 300,000 customers in the past six years.”
  2. “During the first 15 months of the five-year [Genographic] project, 160,000 people signed on, far more than had been anticipated.”

So, 300,000 + 160,000 = 460,000. A year later, however, these numbers are obsolete and I wanted to bring them as up-to-date as possible. To do this, I took the 2006 EMBO papers and scoured the internet for testing numbers revealed by any of the genetic genealogy testing firms. The results suggest that the current number is much higher than 460,000. My findings are below:

1.Oxford Ancestors, FTDNA, and DNAPrint Genomics = 300,000 up to November 2006. Although I am not certain of the accuracy of this number from the 2006 EMBO article, I decided to use it as a starting point.

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Carnival of Genealogy, 35th Edition

Welcome to the November 4, 2007 edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.The topic for this edition was actually more of a question… Do you have a family mystery that might be solved by DNA?I offered to analyze a submitted post for questions or family mysteries that might be solved using genetic genealogy.There were a number of interesting and challenging articles, and everyone kept me very busy!If you’ve ever considered using DNA to analyze your ancestry, you’ll want to read all the way through this Carnival!

I wanted to start off with a post from the footnoteMaven entitled “Ask The Genetic Genealogist.”In the post, she refers to me as “Dr. DNA” – I could really get used to that!The footnoteMaven has a cousin on her father’s side who was recently diagnosed as having sickle cell trait.Sickle cell is caused by any one of a number of identified mutations of the hemoglobin gene on chromosome 11.Sickle cell trait means that the cousin has one good copy of the hemoglobin gene and one bad copy – one from each parent.Since this is autosomal DNA, the traditional tool of genetic genealogy, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, won’t be of much help.There are a number of DNA testing companies that will sequence the hemoglobin gene to check for mutations, but testing your cousin’s siblings won’t reveal which parent had the mutated gene.It would be best to test the parents, but they have passed away.Unfortunately, answering your mystery would most likely be very expensive and time-consuming, at least at the current stage of technology.In 5 to 10 years, as whole genome sequencing becomes cheaper, it might be a much easier project.There are some autosomal genealogy tests which purport to reveal ancestral origins (such as Africa, Europe, Asia, etc..), but this would not reveal any information about the source of the mutated hemoglobin gene.

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If You Just Can’t Get Enough of The Genetic Genealogist…

I recently took a few moments to stitch together some of my favorite and most-visited posts from the blog into an easy to read eBook. It has a wide array of posts for anyone interested in DNA, including people who are new to genetic genealogy and those who have had experience in the field. The title is:

10 DNA Testing Myths Busted, and Other Favorite Posts

The eBook, which is in pdf form, can be downloaded from the following link. Feel free to put it on your website or email it to anyone you think might be interested. I think you’ll find that it’s full of interesting material!

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DNA Analysis of 5 People Who Helped Create America

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1. Benjamin Franklin – mtDNA Haplogroup V

In addition to being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Franklin was a politician, printer, scientist, inventor, diplomat, and author.DNA testing has elucidated the origins of Benjamin Franklin’s mitochondrial DNA through his mother Abiah Lee Folger, who had six sisters. One of those sisters, Doras Folger, passed on her mtDNA to her 9th-great granddaughter, Charlene Chambers King. Sequencing of Ms. King’s mtDNA revealed that she belonged to mtDNA Haplogroup V with the following mutations: T16298C, 315.1C, 309.1C, A263G, and T72C.Haplogroup V (known as “Velda” by Sykes) is believed to have originated in Europe about 12,000 years ago, possibly in Iberia. About 4% of Europeans contain Haplogroup V mtDNa.So far, no known source of Benjamin Franklin’s Y-DNA or autosomal DNA has been discovered (although some believe that his tooth might provide the answer).

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Links From The Genetic Genealogist – October 31, 2007

In order to clean out posts I’ve been saving in Google Reader (does anyone else keep posts in Reader until you’ve blogged about them?), I decided to have a potpourri day. The following are links to interesting articles around the blogosphere. And Happy Halloween!

Pedro at Public Rambling has The Fortune Cookie Genome, a ‘science fiction’ post about picking up the results of his whole genome scan from his genetic advisor. Of course, it’s only science ‘fiction’ until it’s science ‘reality’!

The Women’s Bioethic Project has an article about DNA Testing Without Consent, which asks whether there should be a ‘reverse’ statute of limitations for testing DNA from famous dead people. The article was written in response to a recent story in Parade. I talked about this briefly back in August (see “DNA From the Dead“), and I’m working on a post about “Discarded DNA and the Constitution”, so stick around. HT: Eye on DNA.

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