Tuesday, November 30, 2010

23andMe Holiday Sale Extended through December 25th and another DNA gift idea for Christmas!

This morning 23andMe's welcome page is announcing that the holiday sale has been extended through December 25th (or while supplies last). I would imagine that the first people to send their kits in from this sale will receive their results before the 25th. So, for those on the fence about the changes at 23andMe, there will likely be an opportunity to observe the reaction to the first wave of results from the v3 chip before the end of the sale.  If the reviews are positive, 23andMe should expect a rush of new orders before Christmas.

If you just don't know what to get your wacky relatives for Christmas and they have already had all of the DNA tests that you can force on them,  here's an idea: Ancestry Portraits by DNA 11, "the company that brought DNA Art to the masses".  The press release explains, "Portraits combine the science of genealogy with the technology of the mobile and social web..." by visualizing "maternal lineage in a custom piece of augmented art".  Even better, the article also states that those of us who already have our DNA results can use them to create our DNA Ancestry Portrait. Hey, if they bring the price point down, it would make a great gag gift for those relatives who roll their eyes and yawn when you start talking about DNA and genealogy.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

More Holiday DNA Deals - From FTDNA and GeneTree

23andMe is not the only company that has cut their prices for the holiday. Both GeneTree and FTDNA are offering sales on their Y-DNA tests.

FTDNA's is offering a discount on Y-DNA upgrades. With more and more markers being offered all the time, this is a good chance to get the most of your Y-DNA results with the #1 most trusted company offering this test. If you have tested only 12 markers, you can upgrade to 37 for $69 ($30 off) or 67 for $149 ($40 off).  If you have tested 25 markers, you can upgrade to 67 for $148 ($39 off) and 37 marker tests can be upgraded to 67 for $79 ($20 off). These prices should appear when you log in to your personal page and click on the special offers link in the left hand navigation bar. Orders must be placed and paid for by December 1st. Obviously, you must have already tested at least 12 markers at FTDNA to qualify for this offer. Hopefully, FTDNA will have another offer before the end of the year to entice new customers into their huge database.

GeneTree's sale is on their Y-46 marker test. They are offering it for only $79.95 ($100 off) through Monday, Nov 29, 2010. I don't have any experience with this company, but the upside to testing with them is that, by doing so, your results are included in Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation's database. Judging from the recent media articles, GeneTree is making a real effort to build a meaningful database of integrated "paper" genealogy research and DNA results. They encourage users to input their genealogy into their database by building family trees on their site. I really like this concept and will be keeping my eyes and ears open for more on this company.

23andMe's sale has now opened up to the public with no code required. According to a post on their Facebook page, the sale is expected to last through Monday. There now appears to be an option to order their product at the regular $499 price without the requirement of the PGS subscription. (Look under the red "Order Now" button for the blue writing, "Order for $499 with no subscription commitment".) This is very interesting. Perhaps they are rethinking the subscription requirement due to the negative feedback from their existing customers and the genetic genealogy community.

[Disclosure - My company StudioINTV has an existing production agreement with FTDNA that has no bearing on the opinions I express. I receive no other compensation in relation to any of the companies or products referenced in my blog.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

23andMe Sale and Updates

The 23andMe sale inadvertently went live early this morning (from about 2:00am - 8:00am PST) and many were able to order what was previously called the Complete Edition, now their only offering, for $99 plus a one year subscription to the Personal Genome Service ($159 total). This was not intentional since the sale was not meant to start until 10am PST.

From 23andMe:
"...There will be an update posted in the community after 10 am. I'm pretty sure...nobody will be disappointed. Getting our service into the hands of as many people as possible is our #1 goal...I hope everyone realizes that whatever plans we had went somewhat awry, and for that we are deeply apologetic. However, it is too late to rearrange the moving pieces, so nothing new will happen until 10am...Trust me, we know this is not an ideal situation - we would never have chosen to do it this way."

Judging from this, it appears that the sale will reappear at 10am, as originally planned. [Updated- The sale is now live and, reportedly, should last through Friday. All codes that have been released in the last 24 hours are valid, including CUBPNY.]

23andMe officially announced the availability of their new chip with this press release today, as well as updating their FAQs to address some of the questions that have arisen. In particular, according to this new FAQ, it should be noted that new customers will no longer receive updates, including new Relative Finder matches, if they cancel their PGS subscription, however they will still have access to any existing reports, matches, features and their raw data. Existing customers will continue to get updates for all reports based on the current chip. Any new reports that have data on the old chip will be available to them, without subscription or upgrade. To answer a common concern, 23andMe has confirmed with me that non-upgraded kits will still receive new Relative Finder matches from among the new orders. They said that the goal is for the existing kits to not be impacted by the new changes. Therefore, existing customers who do not upgrade will not be affected at this time, but, obviously, will not receive the benefits of the new technology. Current customers are being encouraged not to automatically upgrade, but rather to wait until they "see the value". We are assured that the option will continue to be available.

It is also my understanding that if you have kits that you bought before Monday, but haven't yet sent them in, they will be processed on the new v3 chip and do NOT require a subscription! (That is the best deal of all!)

With the above in mind, I plan to order a whole new kit instead of upgrading. Since the upgrade costs $89 plus a monthly subscription of $5, then it is only $10 more for a whole new kit. That way I can keep my existing kit without the subscription and continue to get new Relative Finder matches and continued updates, even if I decide to cancel the subscription for the new kit after 12 months. I will report the differences here when I get my results. [Update- 23andMe is discouraging this approach because it will fragment the information (surveys, etc)  and may confuse users (multiple RF profiles).]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

News from 23andMe - Consolidated offerings, Personal Genome Service, upgraded chip and possible sale

The DNA genealogy mailing lists and Twitter are all abuzz about 23andMe's new consolidated offerings and price structure, as well as the possibility of another $99 sale tomorrow.  Back in September, I wrote about 23andMe's new subscription plan - the Personal Genome Service here and here.  Not surprisingly, they appear to have changed their model to require this subscription for all new orders starting today. (It seems that 23andMe has taken a lesson from direct response marketing - where we used to say that product is King, but now we all know that continuity is King!) They have done away with the separate Health and Ancestry Editions and now will only offer what was formerly the Complete Edition for $499 plus a minimum one year subscription to their PGS ($5 per month). All customers who formerly had the separate editions have been automatically upgraded and will immediately have access to their raw data as well as all tools currently offered on the site.

23andMe has also announced that they have upgraded their testing chip to the Illumina OmniExpress Plus Genotyping Beadchip, which was originally released in January of this year and enhanced in March. Information on this chip (before enhancements) from the press release:
  • Premiere Genomic Coverage - Greater than 700,000 strategically selected tagSNPs provide genomic coverage up to 90% for Caucasian and Asian populations as assessed by the International HapMap Project.
  • Proven Data Quality - Industry-standard Infinium HD Assay affords greater than 99% average call rates and greater than 99.9% reproducibility.
  • Industry Best Throughput - With the iScan System, researchers can process in excess of thousands of samples per week.
Specifications for the original are here. 23andMe may have a custom designed version of this. The original press release described a chip with coverage of 733,202 markers, while the enhanced "Plus" version appears to cover greater than 900,000 markers. Either way, it is a significant upgrade from the previous 580,000 SNPs. (I am not an expert on this, so please refer to the original sources yourself for details and clarification; more here.)

[Update - From 23andMe's updated FAQs :  
The DNA chip that we use genotypes hundreds of thousands of SNPs at one time. It actually reads 1,000,000 SNPs that are spread across your entire genome. Although this is still only a fraction of the 10 million SNPs that are estimated to be in the human genome, these 1,000,000 SNPs are specially selected "tag SNPs." Because many SNPs are linked to one another, we can often learn about the genotype at many SNPs at a time just by looking at one SNP that "tags" its group. This maximizes the information we can get from every SNP we analyze, while keeping the cost low.
In addition, we have hand-picked tens of thousands of additional SNPs of particular interest from the scientific literature and added their corresponding probes to the DNA chip. As a result, we can provide you personal genetic information available only through 23andMe.
There is a list of the 733,202 non-custom markers here.]

Existing customers have the option to upgrade their results to this new testing platform for $89, but it also requires subscription to the Personal Genome Service. Existing customers will not be required to subscribe or upgrade and will still receive their updates as before. Not surprisingly, without the upgrade, some new information based on specific markers will not be available.

All week 23andMe has been tweeting about upcoming sales and one tweeter who may or may not have inside info tweeted this morning, "@23andMe $99 discount returns; code B84YAG to be live 10 AM Wednesday for the new v3 chip."  I imagine this sale price will require a subscription to the Personal Genome Service, but at only $5/per month, this is still a great deal.

I will post updates as I get them, but keep your eye on 23andMe!

**UPDATE - 23andMe is determined to keep the details secret until tomorrow. We will just have to be patient! Check back then for more...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Genetic Genealogy in the News: Another misleading, inaccurate story

ABC4.com out of Salt Lake City recently ran an article about genealogy and DNA testing. I am always happy to see my hobby in the news, however, I have real concerns about some of the claims that are being made in this story. As a long time genealogist and experienced genetic genealogist, I find this story very misleading and, potentially, detrimental to the industry.

First of all, the article states that "Amanda Gilbert is the only person in the world who can claim accused witch, Rebecca Nurse, and persecutor, Reverend John Hale as grandparents."  Wow, really? These people lived in 1692. They could each potentially have thousands of descendants. A quick search of the Internet or Ancestry.com turns up many who claim descendancy from each Reverend Hale and Rebecca Nurse. I guess it is possible that Ms. Gilbert is the ONLY one descended from both Hale and Nurse, but that is quite a claim. Doesn't she have any siblings or children? Did the reporter do the extensive genealogical research necessary to substantiate this claim? Before I made such a far-reaching statement, I would be sure and do a thorough and extensive genealogical study of each of the subjects, following all descendants down to the present day. I could chalk it up to naivete and a lack of understanding of genealogy on the part of the reporter, but the problem appears to go deeper than that.

The article goes on to "quote" Scott Woodward, president of the DNA testing company GeneTree and principal investigator at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, “We can identify the pieces of DNA that belong to each one of those individuals in the past, and then we compare that to other people’s DNA and identify the great, great, great grandparents you have in common” and referring to Gilbert's DNA, “We put that into the data base and started looking around. She’s also related to the Reverend John Hale.”

I am simply dumbfounded by these statements. It certainly sounds as if he is referring to autosomal DNA testing. As a Beta tester for the only two companies who have introduced commercial relative matching through autosomal DNA testing so far (23andMe and FTDNA) and an active member of the genetic genealogy community and ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy), I find these claims incredulous. There are many of us who have been working long hours studying our autosomal DNA results, attempting to determine which pieces of DNA came down to us from which ancestors, but it is difficult and slow work. This type of DNA research is new and, to my knowledge, none of us yet claim to be able to definitively identify the blocks of autosomal DNA from specific ancestors more than a couple of generations back. There may be a few on the forefront of autosomal DNA family studies who, in limited examples, appear to have strong evidence that links blocks of DNA to a specific ancestor, but they stop short of making absolute claims at this early date. I have confidence that, in the future, we will be able to accomplish this, but not until MANY more people are tested with solid genealogies. To make matters worse, the way it is written, Woodward seems to be claiming to be able to identify DNA from an ancestor who lived more than three hundred years ago! The companies and the scientists leading the way in this new science (autosomal DNA testing), are tentative about predicting shared ancestry more than a couple of hundred years in the past at MOST. If GeneTree has evidence that they can do what Woodward seems to be claiming, there are many of us who would love to see it and will happily and enthusiastically congratulate them on their accomplishment.

Since, according to their website, GeneTree doesn't even do commercial autosomal testing, perhaps Mr. Woodward is referring to Y-DNA testing. In that case, his claim that DNA showed that Ms. Gilbert is descended from Rev. Hale may be possible, but it couldn't have been her DNA. Maybe Ms. Gilbert has a male relative who was tested by GeneTree and whose Y-DNA matched those Hales known to descend from the Reverend. It is certainly possible that the reporter may have misunderstood and taken Mr. Woodward's statements out of context. If this is what he meant, then more explanation was certainly needed. Perhaps GeneTree can clarify this. I know from personal experience with the press that what you say is not always what they write, so we should give Mr. Woodward and GeneTree the benefit of the doubt in regard to these seemingly outrageous claims.

Whether intentional or not, these types of public statements could spell big trouble for the future of DNA Ancestry testing.  One always runs the risk of being misquoted by the press, therefore DTC genetic testing companies would be prudent to err on the side of caution in their claims and interviews. As we all know, regulatory agencies have their eye on these companies. If those of us involved in the industry make what appear to be unsubstantiated or misleading statements in regard to what can and cannot be accomplished with DNA testing, it gives these agencies an excuse to interfere, even in ancestry testing. While we cannot always prevent how we are portrayed in the press, we can be very clear about the current limitations of DNA Ancestry testing. Any time we speak to the press, we need to keep in mind that the reporters writing about our complex industry may not have the necessary expertise to fully understand what we are saying, so we should make a concerted effort to educate them. When and if an article is published that contains inaccuracies or misstatements, it must be our responsibility to publicly refute it.  In order to minimize the risk of misinformation and misleading claims, we need cooperation and industry-wide standards among DNA Ancestry testing companies. It is my fear that if we do not take proactive steps toward some form of self-regulation, we are inviting outside interference.

** Please read the update in the comment section below from Dr. Ann Turner.

[Disclosure - My company StudioINTV has an existing production agreement with FTDNA that has no bearing on the opinions I express. I receive no other compensation in relation to any of the companies or products referenced in my blog.]