DNA

Comment on “Another Personal Genetics Company Is Sharing Client Data”

Yesterday I published an announcement from AncestryDNA and Calico that provides details about a new collaboration between the two organizations. In fact, the goals of the collaboration sound great: “to investigate human heredity of lifespan.” However, pessimists always see a negative side to anything and this announcement is no exception. This is a variation of the “glass is half full” versus “the glass is half empty” comparison.

Writing in Wired, Katie M. Palmer wrote an article entitled Another Personal Genetics Company Is Sharing Client Data. She states, “… companies like AncestryDNA have convinced customers to pay to give their genetic data away, at a cost of about $100 per sample. This is the same sort of bargain you make when you begrudgingly hand your personal information over to Google or Facebook: You sacrifice some amount of data about yourself in return for added convenience.”

AncestryDNA and Calico to Research the Genetics of Human Lifespan

The following announcement was written by AncestryDNA:

Collaboration Will Analyze Family History and Genetics to Facilitate Development of Cutting-Edge Therapeutics

PROVO, Utah and SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., July 21, 2015  — AncestryDNA, an industry leader in consumer genetics, and Calico, a company focused on longevity research and therapeutics, today announced an effort to investigate human heredity of lifespan. Together, they will evaluate anonymized data from millions of public family trees and a growing database of over one million genetic samples. Financial terms have not been disclosed.

AncestryDNA and Calico will work together to analyze and investigate the role of genetics and its influences in families experiencing unusual longevity using Ancestry’s proprietary databases, tools and algorithms. Calico will then focus its efforts to develop and commercialize any potential therapeutics that emerge from the analysis.

Ancestry Launches AncestryHealth

This appears to be a major expansion of Ancestry.com’s many services. Notice that it is a free service. The following announcement was written by the folks at Ancestry.com:

Dr. Cathy Petti Joins as Chief Health Officer to Spearhead Company’s Global Health Initiatives

AncestryDNA Database Surpasses One Million People Genotyped

(PROVO, Utah) – July 16, 2015 – Ancestry (www.ancestry.com), the leader in family history and consumer genetics, today announced the launch of AncestryHealth (www.ancestryhealth.com), a new entity and resource to empower consumers with important health insights to help promote wellness, prevent illness and support healthier living. The company also announced appointment of Cathy A. Petti, MD, as AncestryHealth’s Chief Health Officer. At the same time, AncestryDNA (www.ancestrydna.com) announced the accomplishment of surpassing one million people tested in its database.

AncestryHealth’s first offering is a free service, currently in beta, that gives consumers the ability to compile their family health history information with the help of their Ancestry family tree.

So You’re Related to Charlemagne? You and Every Other Living European…

Adam Rutherford is a former geneticist, now a science writer and broadcaster. He is on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science, and his most recent book, Creation (Viking 2013), concerning the origin of life, and genetic engineering and synthetic biology.

Rutherford thinks a crystal ball might be just as good as direct-to-consumer genetic testing when it comes to the ‘genetic astrology’ of linking the DNA of modern humans to their famous ancestors.

He writes, “This is merely a numbers game. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. If it were, your family tree when Charlemagne was Le Grand Fromage would harbour more than a billion ancestors – more people than were alive then. What this means is that pedigrees begin to fold in on themselves a few generations back, and become less arboreal, and more web-like. In 2013, geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop showed that all Europeans are descended from exactly the same people. Basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, Drogo, Pippin and Hugh. Quel dommage.”

Ancestry Launches Family History DNA Testing Service in Canada

This business offering actually started a few weeks ago but Ancestry.ca released the official announcement today:

DNA test pinpoints genetic ethnicity and helps people discover family origins going back thousands of years

  • AncestryDNA studies a person’s entire genome at more than 700,000 different locations
  • Results detail a person’s ethnic origins across 26 regions worldwide
  • Service can help users discover and connect with new relatives, linking DNA results to a network of more than 16 billion historical records

TORONTO, June 9, 2015Ancestry, the world’s largest family history resource, today launched AncestryDNA in Canada. AncestryDNA allows individuals to learn about their genetic heritage and discover new family connections in Canada and around the world.

When coupled with Ancestry’s database of more than 16 billion historical records, AncestryDNA will enable family history enthusiasts and novices alike to discover even more about their own past, including the ability to find entire new cousin matches around the world.

Ancestry.com launches AncestryDNA in Australia and New Zealand

AncestryDNA – part of Ancestry, the world’s largest online family history resource, announced few days ago it would be available in Australia. Today, the company stated the service will also be available in New Zealand. Following earlier releases in the US, UK and Ireland, AncestryDNA now has a database with DNA samples from over 850,000 people.

Details may be found in the Ancestry.com Blog at http://goo.gl/k3uut2.

Large-Scale Recent Expansion of European Patrilineages shown by Population Resequencing

The title above is a mouthful. Here’s the translation:

According to Dr. Gianpiero Cavalleri of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Scientific Director of the Irish DNA Atlas Project (an academic research collaboration between the Genealogical Society of Ireland the RCSI) – “The work is important in that it illustrates that the Y chromosomes lineage that is carried by over 90% of Irish males (i.e. R1b S116) descends from a founder that lived somewhere between 3.7 and 4.8 thousand years ago, with a strong expansion in population size around 3000 years ago. This result plugs in very well with the recent Haak et al paper (the one with all the ancient DNA work), suggesting that the origin of R1b & resulting expansion (in late neolithic) was from the steppe region North of the Caspian Sea.”

Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation DNA Database has been Shut Down

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) was an early collector of DNA information to be used for genealogy purposes. It was founded by inventor and philanthropist James LeVoy Sorenson and Brigham Young University professor Dr. Scott Woodward. Mr. Sorenson envisioned the development of a genetic-genealogical blueprint of all humankind. Some years later, the database and supporting infrastructure was acquired by Ancestry.com and became the basis for what is now Ancestry DNA. It has since served the interests of thousands of genealgists as well as several other communities.

Sadly, Ancestry has now announced the closure of this valuable service. The announcement at http://www.smgf.org states:

We regret to inform you the site you have accessed is no longer available.

GENLIB: an R Package for the Analysis of Genealogical Data

The following announcement was published by BMC Bioinformatics:

Founder populations have an important role in the study of genetic diseases. Access to detailed genealogical records is often one of their advantages.

These genealogical data provide unique information for researchers in evolutionary and population genetics, demography and genetic epidemiology. However, analyzing large genealogical datasets requires specialized methods and software.

The GENLIB software was developed to study the large genealogies of the French Canadian population of Quebec, Canada. These genealogies are accessible through the BALSAC database, which contains over 3 million records covering the whole province of Quebec over four centuries.

Let’s Clear the Air About Ancestry DNA Sharing Customers’ Data

I thought this was settled but apparently not. I read a lot of online news reports about genealogy and also about DNA. Reports surfaced several days ago claiming that Ancestry.com shared customer DNA data with police officials. Some of those reports stated that this was done without a search warrant while others stated that a search warrant was obtained first before the police contacted Ancestry DNA. The articles were confusing, at least to me, and it apparently confused a lot of other people as well. I have now read a number of later articles and have talked with the folks at Ancestry DNA.

As is often the case, it seems the original articles were mostly correct but one report contained a major error concerning the warrant. I don’t know who published the first report but the first one I saw was in the New Orleans Advocate at http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11707192-123/new-orleans-filmmaker-cleared-in. It clearly stated that a search warrant was obtained. Next, the Electronic Frontier Foundation picked up the story but claimed there was no search warrant. I have a high opinion of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their fight for the rights of consumers in an online world but I think they blew it this time. Their article at https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/05/how-private-dna-data-led-idaho-cops-wild-goose-chase-and-linked-innocent-man-20 states, “Without a warrant or court order, investigators asked the lab to run the crime scene DNA against …” That statement has now been proven to be false. As I write these words, I cannot see where the Electronic Frontier Foundation has since changed their article or issued a correction.

For a rather long and very detailed report on the entire manner, I strongly suggest you read Judy Russell’s explanation of the entire affair in her Legal Genealogist Blog at http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/. I know Judy well enough to know that she is a stickler for facts and I believe her version is correct.

Apple is Reportedly Teaming Up with Scientists to Study Your DNA

This is somewhat of a follow-up to yesterday’s article questioning what you want to happen to your stored DNA sample. Apple is reportedly planning to work with scientists to collect DNA for genetic research, as a part of its ResearchKit platform.

ResearchKit collects data from patients via the iPhone, and is said to be a secure portal. People with certain conditions can opt in to participate in various clinical studies and surveys (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) that can be evaluated and analyzed by medical researchers. The goal is to ultimately improve patients’ health and the ability to care for them. Indeed, those are lofty goals.

Ancestry.com Is Sharing Customer DNA Data With Police

Is this a privacy issue? An article by Jay Syrmopoulos for the Free Thought Project at http://goo.gl/JYML8u says: “Would you find it frightening— perhaps even downright Orwellian — to know that a DNA swab that you sent to a company for recreational purposes would surface years later in the hands of police? What if it caused your child to end up in a police interrogation room as the primary suspect in a murder investigation?”

AncestryDNA Launches Revolutionary New Technology to Power New Ancestor Discoveries

The following announcement and video were created by Ancestry.com:

(PROVO, Utah) – April 2, 2015 – AncestryDNA, the leader in DNA testing for family history, today launched a significant technological advancement that makes discovering one’s family history faster and easier than ever. Now with the easy-to-use AncestryDNA test, customers will have the unique ability to find their ancestors, who lived hundreds of years ago, using just their DNA. Only possible through the groundbreaking work of the AncestryDNA science team, New Ancestor Discoveries is a technical innovation that combines the latest in genetic science, new patent-pending algorithms, and access to AncestryDNA’s extensive database to push the boundaries of human genetics, and help people find ancestors from their past using just a DNA test, no genealogy research required.

“This is the biggest advancement in family history since we introduced our Hint feature, the Ancestry shaky leaf, which scours billions of historical records to automatically find new information about your family,” said Tim Sullivan CEO of Ancestry. “Now, through a simple DNA test, AncestryDNA is fundamentally revolutionizing the way to discover your family history, transforming the experience by making it faster and easier to go further into your family’s past, and instantly discover new ancestors you never knew you had.”

Genetic Study Reveals 30% of White British DNA has German Ancestry

The Romans, Vikings and Normans may have ruled or invaded the British for hundreds of years, but they left barely a trace on our DNA, the first detailed study of the genetics of British people has revealed.

The analysis shows that the Anglo-Saxons were the only conquering force, around 400-500 AD, to substantially alter the country’s genetic makeup, with most white British people now owing almost 30% of their DNA to the ancestors of modern-day Germans.

The Limitations of Familial DNA Searching

The New Orleans Advocate has published an interesting article about the advantages and the limitations of familial DNA searching. I admit I was not familiar with that phrase until I read the article by Jim Mustian. He writes, “Familial searching differs from traditional DNA testing, a mainstream tool used to identify criminals. In familial searching, the number of partial matches — in which genetic profiles share several common “alleles,” or variant forms of genes — can be overwhelming.”

The process is controversial and does not provide positive identification of the individual in question. However, it apparently can identify close family members.

Supreme Court Gives Tacit Approval for Government to take Anybody’s DNA

The Supreme Court of the United States on Monday let stand the conviction of a rapist in the Raynor v. State of Maryland case where prosecution rested on DNA swiped from the armrests of an interrogation-room chair. Glenn Raynor’s genetic material was collected and tested without his knowledge or consent after he agreed to an interview at a police station as part of a criminal investigation. The police didn’t have probable cause to arrest Raynor, and he refused to provide a DNA sample. After he left the station, police swabbed the armrest of the chair where he had been sitting to collect his skin cells without his knowledge. The police then extracted a DNA profile from the cells and used it to connect him to the crime.

The dissent on the Maryland Court of Appeals said a probable-cause warrant was needed and painted a grim picture of the future:

FDA allows 23AndMe to use its Genetic Kits to Test for Bloom Syndrome

In a significant boost for 23andMe, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the direct-to-consumer genetics Silicon Valley startup to use its kit to test for a serious genetic disorder known as Bloom Syndrome.

In November 2013, the FDA ordered 23andMe to stop marketing and selling its kits as a way to test for genetic health information. This marks the first time the FDA has allowed for a home “carrier screening” genetic test. Since the 2013 ban, 23andMe customers could only use the service as a way to find out more about their genealogy.

In a statement on the 23andMe Blog, CEO Anne Wojcicki writes:

Findmypast Begins Offering DNA Testing to Customers

The following announcement was written by the folks at Findmypast:

The world’s fastest growing family history company announces new affiliation with DNA experts FamilyTreeDNA.

Salt Lake City, Utah, 12 February 2015. Leading family history site, findmypast.com has today announced its new partnership with FamilyTreeDNA.

An important frontier in family history, DNA testing complements Findmypast’s historical records and family trees, allowing researchers to connect with one another and solve long-standing research questions. As of today Findmypast will now be offering DNA testing services to all its members through FamilyTreeDNA.

U.K. Moves Toward Making Babies from DNA of 3 People

Well son, babies happen when a Daddy and a Mommy and another Mommy and some scientists get parlimentary approval to love each other very much.

This should complicate record keeping for genealogists!

Members of Parliament voted Tuesday to allow the creation of human embryos from the DNA of three people to try to eradicate a type of genetic disease that has caused the deaths of thousands of babies. If the measure also passes Britain’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, England would become the first country to legalize the procedure. If the House of Lords approves the bill, the first three-person baby could be born as soon as next year.

Millions of DNA Samples Stored in Warehouse Worry Privacy Advocates

Privacy advocates are calling for more safeguards related to a state collection of DNA samples from 16 million Californians in a nondescript government warehouse in the Bay Area.

The biobank holds blood taken with the prick of a heel from almost every baby born in California for the last three decades. It is used to screen for 80 health disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. Unlike most states, California keeps the frozen samples indefinitely and shares them with genetic researchers, for a fee.

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