The Genetics of Cousin Marriage

It’s conventional wisdom that procreation between first cousins is unhealthy. But what are the actual genetic risks?

James MacDonald describes some of the risks in a new article. He writes:

“In much of the world, consanguineous marriage between cousins is very common. For most Americans, however, marriage between cousins is at best a punchline, at worst a taboo. In many states, it is illegal for first cousins to get married. The objections are ostensibly based on the risk of genetic problems. But is there an actual risk?”

You can find the article in the JSTOR Daily at: http://bit.ly/2w0K47v.


Genealogists Help in the Hunt for ALS Genes along a large Family Tree in Kentucky and Virginia

One family with origins in Ewing, Virginia, just east of the state’s mountainous meeting point with Kentucky and Tennessee seem to suffer from a medical condition they knew as cancer of the throat. They lost the ability to chew, swallow, and speak, they lost weight, and then they died. A doctor recognized it as something else: ALS. The medical condition also is often called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

NOTE: ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.

Notable individuals who have been diagnosed with ALS include baseball great Lou Gehrig, theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Senator Jacob Javits, actor David Niven, “Sesame Street” creator Jon Stone, musician Lead Belly (Huddie Ledbetter), entertainer Dennis Day, jazz musician Charles Mingus, former vice president of the United States Henry A. Wallace, and others.

ALS often is inherited, passed on from one generation to another within a family. However, not everyone within the family develops ALS. By the time the symptoms are apparent, it is normally too late to slow down the disease.

MyHeritage is Offering a Hot DNA Sale

If you are thinking of having your DNA or a relative’s DNA tested, now is a good time. In fact, it is also a good time to obtain a “second opinion” to compare against a previous DNA test you took and whose findings are questionable in your mind.

MyHeritage (the sponsor of this newsletter) has started a Hot DNA Sale in the US and worldwide which will run through August 20th. The price of a DNA kit sent to a US address is ONLY $69 and includes free standard shipping if you order two or more kits. Similar price reductions are available in many other countries around the world.

For more information or to order kits now, click on the above image.

Genetic Genealogy Is Now Solving Recent Crimes, not Just Cold Cases

In recent weeks, the news services have been full of articles about law enforcement officials using the publicly-available genealogy DNA site GEDmatch to find relatives of criminals who committed crimes many years ago, Most of the cases involved “cold cases,” violent crimes committed 20 to 40 years ago. However, the use of this technology has moved forward. Now the officials are using GEDmatch and whatever other publicly-available DNA information they can find to identify criminals in more recent cases.

For instance, a 31-year-old man, Spencer Glen Monnett, was arrested by police in Utah on July 28 for the rape of an elderly woman, Carla Brooks. The crime happened only last April. Monnett was located via “genetic genealogy”: DNA he left at the crime scene was used to find his relatives and then him.

You can read more in the MIT Technology Review web site at http://bit.ly/2AtJofz.

DNA Testing Companies Offering Genetic Testing Pledged to Follow Voluntary Guidelines

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

In light of the recent familial DNA testing by the public DNA site GEDMatch,  private genetic testing companies pledged on July 31 to follow voluntary “Privacy Best Practices for Consumer Genetic Testing Services”. The companies pledged  to obtain consent from users before sharing “individual-level information”, including personal information, and genetic data with other businesses.   The concern over privacy of the DNA data, which resulted in the “Best Practices” pledge stems from law enforcement being helped by using the familial DNA matching to find the suspected Golden State Killer (he has not yet been convicted so I am saying suspected) which did not require a court-ordered warrant and other potential cold case criminals.

DNA Testing by the Canadian Government to aid Deportations Leaves Plenty of Room for Misinterpretation and Mistreatment

The Canada Border Services Agency recently has been collecting the DNA of immigrants and using a genealogy DNA website to find and contact their distant relatives and establish their nationality.

Border security has become a political hot potato with the arrival on foot from the United States of 30,000 asylum seekers since January 2017, putting strains on Canada’s refugee system and provoking a public backlash. Most of the refugees being refused entry are not U.S. citizens escaping the political turmoil south of the Canadian-U.S. border. Instead, most are originally from other countries, often ones that do not have extensive records of their own citizens’ births or other vital statistics.

Canada announced last week it was expanding the collection of biometrics such as fingerprints and photos for refugee claimants, individuals facing extradition, and foreign nationals seeking a temporary resident visa, work permit, or study permit. CBSA claims it always obtains consent from the individual before submitting their DNA to these websites.

MyHeritage DNA Opens a European Distribution Center

One recent press release caught my eye and may interest European readers of this newsletter: MyHeritage Ltd. has opened a new distribution center for its DNA testing kits in Tilburg, a city in the south of the Netherlands, the company announced Sunday. The new center will ship and collect kits to and from most countries in Europe. Customers in Norway and Switzerland will be serviced through the company’s U.S. offices.

The move is part of a wider plan to accelerate MyHeritage’s growth in Europe, Ran Michnowski, vice president of operations for the company said in a statement.

The full announcement may be found at: http://bit.ly/2OvxS6z.

23andMe’s DNA Library to be used for Drug Development

If you had your DNA tested by 23andMe (as I did), your information will be used to help develop new drugs for various medical conditions. However, not everyone is happy with the idea of using personal information for use in developing products by a for-profit company in a for-profit research project.

23andMe has partnered with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in a bid to develop new drug treatments. 23andMe, which gives customers insight into their genetic makeup via postal saliva tests, has some five million customers — a potential DNA database considerably larger than those generally available to the scientific community. “By working with GSK, we believe we will accelerate the development of breakthroughs,” 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki wrote in a blog post.

Xcode Life Releases Free Do-It-Yourself Tools for Ancestry DNA Raw Data Holders

If you are very familiar with DNA as used in genealogy, you may be interested in this software tool announced this weekend by Xcode Life of Chennai, India. The company sells a variety of DNA raw data analysis tools software tools. Here is the company’s announcement of its newest product. the Interformat Data conversion tool:

Xcode Life has announced the release of a suite of free DNA raw data analysis tools catering to the personal genomics community. These tools help in getting the most value out of raw data from ancestry DNA tests from various companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, Living DNA, among several others.

CHENNAI, India – July 21, 2018 – Xcode Life, a global personal genomics company has released a suite of free tools to help individuals with the analysis of DNA raw data provided by companies like 23andMe, Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA and My Heritage DNA.

Findmypast and Living DNA Announce a Partnership

The following announcement was written by Findmypast and Living DNA:

  • The two leading British companies are creating a new DNA experience focused on uncovering British & Irish roots
  • New service will be launched in Fall 2018
  • Living DNA tests now available at Findmypast  

Thursday July 19th: Leading British and Irish family history website, Findmypast, has today announced a new partnership with the providers of the world’s most advanced DNA test, Living DNA.

Together, the two British companies are creating a new DNA experience that is designed to help customers explore their British and Irish roots. This new experience will combine cutting-edge science with traditional family history research methods, allowing families to discover more about their past and present.

How Can Siblings Have DNA Showing Different Ethnicity Estimates?

If you have a DNA test performed and it shows 35% German ancestry, 25% Irish ancestry, 10% Scandinavian ancestry, and the rest from the Middle East, does that mean your brother or sister will show exactly the same results if they also take a DNA test? Actually, the answer usually is “no.”

How can full-siblings have different ethnicities when they have the same parents? It’s a consequence of the complex relationship between genetics, ancestry, and ethnicity.

Common Misconceptions about DNA Testing

When learning about any new technology, it is equally important to learn what the technology CAN do as well as what it CANNOT do. In fact, there are numerous fallacies floating around concerning DNA testing.

A new article in the MyHeritage Blog explains why some of these fallacies are inaccurate. You might want to read the article at http://bit.ly/2KP5lKN.


MyHeritage Launches New Filtering System for DNA Matches

I have only used this briefly but it certainly did work well for me!

MyHeritage has released a brand new filtering system for DNA Matches — which will be very helpful for anyone looking for DNA cousin matches.

Quoting the announcement on the MyHeritage Blog:

“DNA Matches are people who share DNA segments with you. Each DNA Match is thought to be related to you, with one or more shared segments inherited from one or more common ancestors. By now, the DNA database on MyHeritage has grown so large, that most users on MyHeritage have thousands of DNA Matches. Managing all those DNA Matches, and making sense of them has become a challenge — and this is exactly where the new filtering system comes in!

Genealogists Turn to DNA and Family Trees to Crack Five More Cold Cases

A few weeks ago, any mention of using DNA matches to identify long-unsolved murders created headlines around the world. This crime-solving technique has become popular so quickly that it might not even rate a mention in today’s newspapers. It’s happening everywhere!

An article by Heather Murphy in the New York Times briefly mentions 4 murders and one suicide that have produced new evidence in the past few days from GEDmatch.com‘s DNA matching service. The same article also prominently describes the efforts of CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist now working with Parabon, a forensic consulting firm, and a person well-known to genealogists who use DNA in their family tree research efforts.

You can read the article at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/science/dna-family-trees-cold-cases.html.

MyHeritage Offers Free DNA Tests to Help Reunite Separated Migrant Children with their Parents

The following announcement was written by MyHeritage:

We have just announced that, following the recent separation of immigrant parents and children in the United States, MyHeritage is expanding its pro bono initiative, DNA Quest — which helps reunite adoptees with their biological families through DNA testing — to help those parents who were detained at the US border reunite with their children. We are pledging 5,000 additional free DNA tests for separated parents and children who are interested in this opportunity.

For the DNA kits to reach the affected people, MyHeritage has begun contacting relevant government agencies and NGOs that are able to provide assistance with distribution of the DNA kits — to parents in detainment facilities and to their children placed in temporary custody. MyHeritage is also calling the public to assist — anyone who can help with the distribution of the DNA kits and is in touch with the separated families is requested to contact dnaquestsupport@myheritage.com. The DNA results will be processed by MyHeritage and not shared with any third parties.

A New DNA Case Results in the Arrest of a Person for Two Murders in 1987

A Washington state trucker who authorities say was linked by DNA evidence to the 1987 deaths of a young Canadian couple has been charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder. William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac was charged Friday in Snohomish County (Washington) Superior Court. Talbott is charged in the killings of 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook.

Authorities say they used information from public genealogy websites to pinpoint Talbott as a suspect then arrested him after getting a DNA sample from a cup that fell from his truck. Police say the genealogist used information uploaded by distant cousins to narrow their search to Talbott.

You can read more about the case in an article by Caleb Hutton in the Herald.Net at http://bit.ly/2JL1Wfo.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who told me about this latest arrest.

Father and Daughter Reunited on The Today Show thanks to MyHeritage DNA

Sarah, from California (now living in the Netherlands) was placed in adoptive care as young child by her mother. To try and find her biological family, she took a MyHeritage DNA test that her husband purchased for her. She was shocked when she got a match to her biological father, Arland, who didn’t even know she existed.

Sarah and Arland then spoke on the phone numerous times, but today was the first time in 41 years they met in the Today Show with Megyn Kelly television program. He also met two of his grandchildren that he previously did not know existed.

You can watch the reunion in the video player above or in the YouTube web site at https://youtu.be/nkUt3XupQdU.


DNA: Heredity or Hoax?

Don’t believe everything you read. In fact, don’t believe everything you pay for either.

In Canada, there are major benefits to being able to prove Aboriginal People ancestry.

NOTE: Aboriginal People is one term for what we used to call native North American Indians or Eskimos although those terms have recently been replaced with Native Canadians or Aboriginal Canadians. See http://bit.ly/2JPniVe for a list of some of the benefits of Aboriginal Canadian ancestry.

It seems that one Toronto-based laboratory that tests people’s DNA to determine their ancestry has been caught providing “proof” of such ancestry, even when the DNA doesn’t prove it. The scam was caught when one Canadian became suspicious and submitted a DNA sample from his girlfriend’s dog for analysis.

The results from DNA testing company Viaguard Accu-Metrics “proved” that Snoopy the Chihuahua has 20 per cent Native American ancestry: 12 per cent Abenaki and eight per cent Mohawk.

How a Legal Brawl Between Two Rich Guys Could Change How We Think About DNA

Warning: I had to read this article several times before I understood it. To say it is a twisted tale is an understatement. I am still not certain I understand all of it. The story involves a lawsuit that could only happen in Florida. Yet it could also set a precedent that will alter laws about DNA nationwide.

Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom and Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter were locked in an absurd suburban skirmish, bickering over who should run the tennis center at Sloan’s Curve, the exclusive Palm Beach waterfront community where both men resided. The legal battle took a rather unexpected turn when the lawyers for Peerenboom surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample from a water bottle that both Mr. and Mrs. Perlmutter had used inside the courtroom.

In 2016, the Perlmutters countersued Peerenboom, his attorney, and the forensic lab for “conversion.” Conversion is roughly the civil court equivalent of theft. The Perlmutters were alleging that Peerenboom and his attorney had effectively stolen their DNA and the information contained within the DNA sample.

Small Genealogy Website GEDmatch ‘Never Expected’ Its Criminal-Catching Use

From an article by Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic:

“Ever since investigators revealed that a genealogy website led police to arrest a man as California’s notorious Golden State Killer, interest in using genealogy to solve crimes has exploded. DNA from more than 100 crime scenes has been uploaded to the same genealogy site. A second man, linked to a double murder in Washington state, has been arrested. This is likely only the beginning.”