Genetic Genealogy in the News

Megan Smolenyak at Megan’s Roots World has some great links to recent news about genetic genealogy.  The first post is “Genealogical Round Up“, and the second is “More Genetic Genealogy.”  If you’re interested in GG, stop by.

I also saw a recent story in the IndyStar called “Unearthing Their Roots“, about African Americans using DNA in an attempt to identify their ancestral origin.  Although this exact topic has been very popular in the press this year, this article is more balanced than some.

By the way, I would like to remind everyone that Roots Television is a great resource for anyone who might be interested in genetic genealogy, or genealogy in general.  I especially enjoy seeing interviews and presentations from conferences that I am unable to attend.  It’s a wonderful resource.

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A List of Books for the Genetic Genealogist

A lot of people write me to ask me questions about genetic genealogy, and a few have asked if there are any books on the subject that might help them learn more about it.  I thought I should provide a list of great reading material to help someone who might not have time to ask (but keep the questions coming!).

Great beginner books which are specifically about genealogy and DNA:

Trace Your Roots with DNA: Use Your DNA to Complete Your Family Tree by Megan Smolenyak and Ann Turner (Published October 7, 2004):

The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes (Published July 9, 2001):

How to Interpret Your DNA Test Results for Family History & Ancestry: Scientists Speak Out on Genealogy Joining Genetics by Anne Hart (Published December 2002):

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5 Reasons to Save Your Grandmother’s DNA – A Busy Day Re-post

1.You got those big blue eyes from your grandmother, but chances are you inherited less desirable genes as well.We inherit our DNA from our parents, who inherited it from their parents.Since we all possess genes that can cause or contribute to disease, knowing one’s DNA and family medical history can be a great resource for someone who learns they have a genetic disorder.

2.Full genome sequencing is right around the corner!The X-prize quest for the $1000 genome will lead to efficient and affordable whole-genome sequencing.As commercial companies crop up and compete for customer’s business, leading to even lower prices.

3.Your grandmother’s DNA contains clues to her ancestry.X-chromosome, mtDNA, and autosomal genealogy tests contain clues to a person’s ancestry, both recent and ancient.

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Reconstructing the Worldwide Family Tree

I first saw mention of Mike Elgan’s story, “Coming Soon: The Mother of All Genealogy Databases” at Jasia’s Creative Gene (The Google Family Tree?), and then I saw it at the Genealogue (NothingWill Save Us From Boredom).

In the article, Mr. Elgan imagines an enormous future database that combines traditional genealogical records and DNA to link everyone together.  Two individuals could then, for instance, search the database to find their closest relationship to each other.  My first thought, of course, is of privacy issues and plain old bad genealogical data (of which the internet is full).

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The Early Stages of the Genetic Genealogy Revolution – Part II

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I’ve spoken before about the enormous effect that affordable SNP and whole-genome sequencing will have on genetic genealogy. In that previous article, I mentioned a study using SNP analysis to identify a person’s ancestry based on autosomal DNA (all the nuclear non-sex DNA). Another study, released today in PLoS Genetics, used SNP chips to identify SNP markers that are characteristic of a certain ancestral origins. According to the authors:

“We have developed a novel algorithm to identify a subset of SNP markers that capture major axes of genetic variation in a genotypic dataset without use of any prior information about individual ancestry or membership in a population.”

To accomplish this, the researchers:

“…studied here 274 individuals from 12 populations (20 Mbuti, 20 Mende, 22 Burunge, 42 African Americans, 42 Caucasians, 20 Spanish, 11 Mala, 20 East Asians, 20 South Altaians, 20 Nahua, 20 Quechua, and 19 Puerto Ricans). Three of these populations are admixed (Caucasians, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans). All individuals were typed using the 10K Affymetrix array.”

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DNA to the Genealogical Rescue, Again

In today’s Washington Post there’s a story about The Boy in the Iron Coffin.This coffin was accidentally discovered by a construction crew in Washington, D.C. in 2003.Research conducted by the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History discovered that the body inside, still wearing a white burial suit, was that of William T. White, about age 15.William, who appears to have had a heart defect that would have made him sickly, died on January 23, 1852:

“The boy was extremely well preserved and clad in white cotton clothing that included a pleated shirt and vest with cloth-covered buttons, flared trousers, darned socks and ankle-length underdrawers.”

According to the article, the body “had been buried in a cemetery that probably belonged to Columbian College, the precursor to George Washington University, in what is now Columbia Heights, and had been a student at the college preparatory school when he died.”

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Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Collects Panamanian DNA

On the heels of last week’s announcement that Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) will be collecting DNA samples in Mongolia comes new information that the company will be conducting a similar project in Panama.

According to the announcement, SMGF has partnered with the Gorgas Memorial Institute (Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud Panama) and will attempt to collect 1,500 to 2,000 DNA samples with pedigree charts.The project will gather DNA from each of Panama’s nine provinces and three territories and will include individuals from all major ethnic groups, and from both urban and rural areas:

“We are honored to join with Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama‘s primary institute for health and population studies, to study this country’s diverse, multi-faceted populations,” said Dr. Scott Woodward, executive director of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. “Panama is a fascinating melting pot, its genetic and cultural mix having been influenced by a broad array of Native American populations, Africans from the slave trade, and Europeans and Asians from multiple eras.”

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Genetic Genealogy Spreads Around the World

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Commercially available genetic genealogy isn’t just for Americans and Europeans anymore. Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences, centered in Dubai, recently sent me an email announcing their new venture into the field of genetic genealogy testing.

Although it wasn’t apparent from the email that I received, Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences has partnered with Family Tree DNA to offer genetic genealogy testing. The following sentence comes from a press release at i-newswire: “Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences is proud to be associated with Family Tree DNA to create a database for the Middle Eastern population.”

From the Email:

“Dubai: 09/12/2007-Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences is set to launch a new Wall Chart of DNA Ancestry services to the people of the Middle East to help them invent their deep ancestors from 150,000 years ago. The roots of this tree lie more than 100,000 years in the past, at a time when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were living in Africa. As the branches of the tree multiply, they record the history of our species and the dramatic stories of how pioneering groups of humans explored and populated our planet. The different journeys they made shaped the world we know today.

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DNA Collection Project in South Africa

Dr. Wilmot James, head of the African Genome Project and honorary professor of human genetics at the University of Cape Town, is heading a DNA collection project in South Africa.Dr. James is joined by his colleague Himla Soodyall, a scientist at the National Health Laboratory Service and an associate professor in the Division of Human Genetics at the University of Witwatersrand.On September 9th, James and Soodyall collected swab samples from a number of Capetonians.

The African Genome Project is supported by the South African genealogy website Ancestry24.com (although I was not able to find any information there).One of the goals of the project is to create a public genetic database to examine “how the country became populated over thousands of years” by filling in the gap in current DNA databases.

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