Thursday, February 10, 2011

FTDNA's Family Finder Gets a New Chip!

Today there was great news for the genetic genealogy world from FTDNA! They have announced that they are converting their autosomal DNA "Family Finder" test to the Illumina platform:

We are changing to the Illumina Omni platform. As part of that change, all Family Tree DNA customers who previously ordered and paid for a Family Finder test will be retested for FREE. The new microarray chip for our Family Finder test is the Illumina OmniExpress. It tests about 710,000 unique autosomal DNA SNPs.

The stated motivation for this change was "better potential for future upgrade options." On top of their customer service, as always, FTDNA has already answered many of the common questions in their new FAQs, so I will just cover the highlights:

1. 710,000 SNPs, which is approximately 200,000 more than the old Affymetrix chip
2. Free upgrade for all existing customers (those who request it will be first)
3. Those who sign up for the conversion by Wednesday, February 16th can expect results within 2 to 3 weeks, while converting the entire existing database is estimated to take 6-8 weeks
4. Existing Family Finder results will continue to be available until everyone has been converted 
5. Still $289, no subscription required
6. All currently in process and future orders will be on this platform
7. Not expected to have a significant change to current matches and/or Population Finder
8. In most cases, a new sample will not be required
9. Instructions to request the upgrade:
  a. Login to your FTDNA account. ( If you are a project administrator, you will need to log in using the kit number, not your admin account.
 b. Look for the text box that says “Message From Family Tree DNA! Family Tree DNA announces updates to the Family Finder test! Click here to sign up for a FREE conversion!”
 c. Click on the Click here to sign up for a FREE conversion! link.
 d. Complete the form to sign up.

From what I can tell, this seems to be the same basic Illumina OmniExpress chip that 23andMe is currently using, minus the ~300,000 enhanced and custom SNPs that were added to their version. Since these custom SNPs were likely chosen based on significance for health related interpretations, the ancestry portion should be quite comparable. In fact, the best part of this new development is that this will facilitate the very real potential of cross-company transfers. FTDNA has expressed their intention and desire to accept 23andMe raw data uploads for inclusion in their database, but previously was unable to offer this option due to the incompatibility of the Affymetrix chip versus the Illumina chip (lack of overlapping SNPs). This news should change that and, if the price is right, will result in a greatly increased database for comparisons. It will be interesting to see if 23andMe will also allow for Family Finder raw data transfers into their already large Relative Finder database. It would give their ancestry division a needed boost with an influx of primarily genealogically-minded individuals.

The original Illumina OmniExpress Chip was introduced in January 2010 and enhanced in March. Since the FTDNA version of the chip has close to the original's reported 733,202 SNPs, this is most likely the one that is being used.

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. 
There is a downloadable list of the 733,202 markers on the original Illumina OmniExpress Chip here. As I have noted before, I am not an expert on these chips, so I will wait until some of our more technical friends make the final call on the overlap, but I do anticipate that it will be significant.

This was clearly a good move on the part of FTDNA. I hear that in the two hours after the announcement (starting at 10:30am) the number of people who requested to convert to the new chip was nearly 1,500 and was up to 2,000 by 5 pm.

Things just keep getting better and better for genetic genealogy!

[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.]


  1. It will be great if this development does facilitate comparing results between "Relative Finder" at 23andMe and "Family Finder" at FTDNA.

  2. Nice overview CeCe,

    I have tested both Family Finder and 23andMe (V3) and enjoy being at both places. I have to say I've had the same type of response from both customer bases to my inquires. I had heard that the 23andMe group were not receptive to invites, but I have had a 1 per day acceptance rate. Lets hope that FTDNA refines the population finder product. At the moment, I would suggest 23andMe over FTDNA.