Cutbacks by Ancestry, 23andMe Signal a Shakeout for DNA Industry

From an article by Kristen V Brown in the Bloomberg magazine’s web site:

Anne Wojcicki, chief executive officer and co-founder of 23andMe Inc.

“Consumer DNA-testing firms are closing up shop and cutting jobs, as a lull in sales forces the industry to move beyond the genealogy tests that turned a handful of well-funded companies into household names.

“At least three companies have closed down or suspended their operations over the past year, while the two DNA-testing bellwethers, Ancestry.com LLC and 23andMe Inc., each cut approximately 100 jobs in recent weeks. Others have pulled tests from the market thanks to slow sales.”

The full article may be found at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-25/the-rise-and-fall-of-home-dna-testing.

New Genetic Associations Identified for Heart Failure

Another victory for DNA studies as described in the 23andMe Blog:

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have identified three genes associated with heart failure, a devastating condition that affects an estimated 23 million people worldwide.

The study, the largest to date genome-wide association study on heart failure, also found shared genetic associations between heart failure and known heart failure risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and atrial fibrillation. The scientists also found strong associations with pulmonary conditions and musculoskeletal traits.

Combining Genetics With Genealogy to Identify the Dead in Unmarked Graves

From an article written by the University of Montreal and published in the phys.org web site:

“In Quebec, gravestones did not come into common use until the second half of the 19th century, so historical cemeteries contain many unmarked graves. Inspired by colleagues at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, a team of researchers in genetics, archaeology and demography from three Quebec universities (Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières) conducted a study in which they combined genealogical information from BALSAC (a Quebec database that is the only one of its kind in the world) with genetic information from more than 960 modern Quebecers in order to access the genetic profile of Quebec’s historical population. The results, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, suggest the capabilities that this method may offer in the near future.”


Geneanet Launches a New Service: Geneanet DNA

Another DNA testing service has launched online. According to Geneanet’s home page:

“With Geneanet DNA, let’s build the first European DNA database together

“Millions of you have already taken a genealogical DNA test. And more and more of you are asking to be able to upload their DNA data to Geneanet for finding new relatives.

DNA Test Results are Life-Changing for a Connecticut Man

If you have your DNA tested, please make sure you are prepared for surprising changes, even confusion and huge emotional upheavals.

For instance, Enfield, Connecticut resident Ryan Simpson bought a DNA test kit when it was on sale. He later said, “I was not expecting to find anything other am I really Irish? Or am I really German? Or something like that.” Instead, he found out that the man he thought was his father was not even related to him. Simpson started asking his parents some questions.

The full story is available in an article by Caitlin Burchill in the NBC Connecticut web site at: http://bit.ly/2OTN8f8.

Question: who are your TRUE relatives? Are you mentally prepared to find out?

Layoffs at Genetic Testing Companies Reflect the Changing Market

This is a follow-up to articles I published recently: the layoff at 23andMe announced at http://bit.ly/2vhC1FH and the layoff at Ancestry announced at http://bit.ly/2SsW0t5.

An article by Nicole Wetsman in The Verge web site adds more information in a review of today’s DNA testing business and suggestions as to the underlying causes of these business setbacks. You can find Nicole Wetsman’s article in The Verge at http://bit.ly/2H2ZJYW.

This DNA Testing Firm Said it wanted to Bring Closure to Families of Murder Victims. Then It Blocked a Rival from Using Its Database to Solve Crimes.

An interesting story about competitive DNA firms may be found in an article by Peter Aldhous in the BuzzFeed News web site at: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/peteraldhous/family-tree-dna-parabon-fbi-foia.

A Court Tried To Force Ancestry.com To Open Up Its DNA Database To Police. The Company Said No.

From an article by Peter Aldhous in the BuzzFeed News web site:

“Ancestry.com, the largest DNA testing company in the world, was served a search warrant to give police access to its database of some 16 million DNA profiles, but the company did not comply.

“Ancestry received one request seeking access to Ancestry’s DNA database through a search warrant,” the company revealed in its 2019 transparency report released last week. “Ancestry challenged the warrant on jurisdictional grounds and did not provide any customer data in response.”

All Modern Humans Have Neanderthal DNA, New Research Finds

If someone calls you a Neanderthal, that might not be an insult! We all likely have a bit of Neanderthal in our DNA — including Africans who had been thought to have no genetic link to our extinct human relative, a new study finds.

You can read more in an article by Katie Hunt in the CNN web site at: https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/30/africa/africa-neanderthal-dna-scn/.

Now your challenge is to find the documentation that proves you have Neanderthals in your family tree!

Florida’s Genetic Information Bill Heads to House Floor

The Florida genetic information bill is moving on to the state house floor. A panel passed a bill that would prohibit life, long-term care, and disability-insurance companies from using customers’ genetic information to change, deny or cancel policies.

Insurance companies would also be prohibited from using genetic information to set premiums.

Federal law already prevents health insurers from using genetic information in underwriting policies, but doesn’t apply to life insurance or long-term care coverage.

Proposed Utah Legislature Bill Would Keep Law Enforcement from Probing DNA Data

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City (Utah), said he is filing a bill, which has yet to be publicly released, in the 2020 Utah Legislature that will prevent police from accessing at-home DNA tests to perform familial DNA searches.

Law enforcement has found that tapping into DNA data, which has sometimes been linked to genealogy, can lead to criminal convictions in unsolved crime cases, but the practice also has raised ethical and privacy concerns.

Companies such as Ancestry, which is based in Lehi, Utah, have already banned the practice. According to Ancestry.com’s law enforcement guide, they “do not allow law enforcement to use Ancestry’s services to investigate crimes.”

You can read more in an article by Decker Westenburg in The Daily Universe at: http://bit.ly/37rhFYY.

23andMe Lays Off 100 Employees

According to an article by Christina Farr in the CNBC news web site at https://cnb.cx/30Piet9:

23andMe is laying off 100 people, or 14% of its staff, mostly from its operations team, as consumer DNA tests are down.

CEO Anne Wojcicki didn’t have a clear explanation for that, but cited a variety of factors, including both recession fears and privacy concerns.

Wojcicki said she anticipated that DNA testing would explode when she co-founded the business in 2007, but is now looking ahead to a retracting market.

No One Knew why the Kids in 2 Amish Families were Dying Suddenly. Now Researchers Have Some Answers. (It is Their Ancestry!)

An article by Harmeet Kaur in the CNN web site tells a sad story that shows why DNA research can be so important. The article tells about a new study published in JAMA Cardiology (at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamacardiology/article-abstract/2758306) that sheds light on what caused a number of Amish children to die suddenly. Sadly, the cause turned out to be a genetic problem passed down amongst many families in the Amish community.

Quoting from the report in JAMA Cardiology:

“Findings In this molecular autopsy and genetic analysis, a novel homozygous multiexon duplication in RYR2 was identified among young Amish individuals with exertion-related sudden deaths and sudden cardiac arrests without an overt phenotype to suggest RYR2-mediated catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia.

What Does a Polygenic Risk Score Mean?

If you are interested in using DNA information for both detecting ancestry locations and for inherited health possibilities, you will want to read an article in the MyHeritage Blog: What Does a Polygenic Risk Score Mean?

Here is an excerpt from that article:

“Polygenic risk score (PRS) is a newer development in the world of genetic testing that is now being applied to health. We’ve known that chronic conditions like obesity and heart disease run in families, but prior to the application of PRS to health, we were limited in the ability to determine a person’s genetic risk for these conditions. PRS provides an estimate of the genetic risk to develop certain chronic conditions by looking at variants at many locations across the genome and combining their contributions into a single risk score. This score is calculated by a mathematical model that includes the variants found in the DNA sample you submit and the impact each of those variants has on disease risk.”

Test Your Cat’s DNA

Why should humans be the only ones to test their DNA in order to discover their family trees? Shouldn’t ALL family members be tested? After all, your cat is practically a family member also, right?

DNA testing for humans has been available for several years. Testing a dog’s DNA has been an option for a year or two. Now you can even have your cat’s DNA tested!

Disclaimer: I haven’t tried this myself, primarily because I don’t have a cat. The information in this article is presented “as is” and should not be interpreted as a recommendation from me or from anyone else.

New Owner of GEDmatch Vows to Protect Users From Search Warrants

A few days ago, I wrote about the purchase of GEDmatch by Verogen. (See http://bit.ly/2EdtQvC for my earlier article.) The purchase has created quite a bit of controversy.

GEDmatch has been a free web service, owned and operated by two genealogy enthusiasts. However, the new owners are a business that undoubtedly hopes to make a profit. Verogen probably will introduce fees to access GEDmatch. Privacy experts also worry about how people’s genetic data might ensnare them in future legal problems involving genetic phishing attacks and other uses by hackers who access the GEDmatch database for purposes other than genealogy or for crime solving.

If a DNA Test Proves That a “Daughter” Isn’t Yours, Can You Claim Back Child Support from the Biological Father?

DNA tests can easily bring “skeletons out of the closest.” Family secrets are frequently exposed by DNA tests. The results may create moral, ethical, and even legal, questions.

One example of such “exposure” has been published in the MarketWatch web site. To be sure, MarketWatch isn’t known as a genealogy web site, a DNA web site, or even as a web site that publishes frequent legal articles. It is primarily a financial web site with a focus on the ethics and etiquette of financial affairs. However, a recent “letter to the editor” ticked multiple family relationship boxes: genealogy, DNA, and legal issues.

An unnamed reader asked:

“I recently found out through a DNA test through 23andMe that my ‘daughter’ isn’t mine. I was forced to marry, thinking the baby was mine. My wife passed away in 1990. Can I claim back child support from the biological father?”

MarketWatch’s personal-finance editor, Quentin Fottrell, responded with what I consider to be a well thought-out reply. However, the issue of “surprise relationships” raises all sorts of questions in my mind. Exactly what are the duties and responsibilities of anyone who unexpectedly is informed that he is or is not the parent of a child. Does he become financially responsible for the child’s upbringing and education? In the recent case, is a man who thought he was responsible for the child’s upbringing and education now relieved of such obligations? Can he seek reimbursement from the biological father (who perhaps was unaware that he had a child?)

What would YOU do if you received such unexpected “news?”

Such questions should keep attorneys busy for many more years!

You can read the full article at: https://on.mktw.net/2PCy19w.

9 New Reports Added to MyHeritage Health

From the MyHeritage Blog (MyHeritage is the sponsor of this newsletter):

We are delighted to announce a major addition to the MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry test — 9 new health reports that provide important insights to our users.

In May 2019, we launched the MyHeritage Health test, which offers new dimensions of genetic insight to enrich your life, enlighten you about your health, and help you make informed lifestyle choices. At launch, we promised to continue expanding the scope of the health reports, and the addition of these 9 new reports is the first of many updates that we intend to release in the future.

The 9 new reports include a polygenic risk score for evaluating genetic risk for high blood pressure, 3 reports that estimate genetic risk for developing a disease, and 5 carrier status reports that indicate if an individual is a carrier of a disease that may be passed from a couple to their children if both partners are carriers for the same condition.

The National Genealogical Society Introduces Its Newest Online Course: Understanding and Using DNA Test Results

The following announcement was written by the (U.S.) National Genealogical Society:

FALLS CHURCH, VA, 10 DECEMBER 2019—The National Genealogical Society (NGS) unveiled the newest course in its Continuing Genealogical Studies series, Understanding and Using DNA Test Results. The course is designed to help the millions of individuals, who have taken a DNA test to learn more about their family tree, get the most out of their test results. Students learn at their own pace, in their own home, on any tablet or computer.

“Taking a DNA test is easy,” noted NGS Education Director, Angela McGhie, CG. “Understanding the results and knowing how to use the data to identify your ancestors is more challenging. We are pleased to be able to offer a new course that will teach family historians about patterns of genetic inheritance and how their DNA matches can lead to building a broader family tree.

Chinese Scientists are Working on a Way to Create an Image of a Person’s Face from a Blood Sample

Law enforcement use of genealogy DNA databases has created a lot of controversy lately. (See http://bit.ly/2qfy3LM for a number of articles about voluntary submissions of DNA information by genealogists that have been published in this newsletter over the past year or more.) Now a story by Chris Stanford in the New York Times adds even more questions to the controversy.

From the article:

“It sounds like science fiction, but it isn’t.

“Chinese scientists are working on a way to create an image of a person’s face from a genetic sample, using blood collected from ethnic Uighurs swept up in mass detentions in China’s Xinjiang region.

“At least two Chinese researchers working on the technology have ties to institutions in Europe, and critics say Beijing is exploiting the openness of the international scientific community for questionable purposes. The Chinese have said that they followed international norms that would require research subjects’ consent, but many in Xinjiang have no choice.

“The details: The process, called DNA phenotyping, is in its early stages and is also being developed in the U.S. and elsewhere.”