This week in genetic genealogy:
1. On Friday night, the long-anticipated episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Blair Underwood and Ancestry.com's new autosomal DNA test finally aired. As expected, there has been some controversy regarding the apparent specificity of the prediction of Blair's "10th cousin" from Cameroon (read Blaine Bettinger's take on it here). As I have expressed on various forums over the last couple weeks, it is my opinion that it is impossible to accurately predict the level of relationship past 4th cousins using autosomal DNA exclusively. After about five or six generations of random recombination, the autosomal DNA is so mixed up that there is just no way to determine if a matching block of DNA came from your fourth great grandparents or your tenth great grandparents without extensive testing of other parties. My guess is that Ancestry.com was using Y-DNA in this prediction since the "cousin" stated that he tested back in 2005 and twice it is mentioned that this match is on Blair's paternal side. Perhaps, they got really lucky and he matched the Cameroon cousin on both atDNA and Y-DNA, which helped them to come to this conclusion. Regardless, the specificity of the prediction seems overly confident.
The links on the interface to "Contact" the match or "View tree" looked promising.
2. This weekend the "world's largest genealogy conference" Who Do You Think You Are Live! was held in London. We had several International Society Of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) representatives there educating the Brits on genetic genealogy. Dick Eastman reports that the Family Tree DNA and ISOGG booths were "constantly crowded". He states regarding the dedicated genetic genealogy area, "...the lecture area was packed and a few times people were standing in the back and along the side, listening to DNA lectures." ISOGG Director Katherine Borges reports that "Friday was a smash! FTDNA went through a whole bag of kits (and) passed out 500 flyers..." Debbie Kennett, author of DNA and Social Networking, was working at the ISOGG booth and says it was "much busier" than last year and FTDNA ended the show with only three DNA collection kits remaining! Derrell Teat reported that ISOGG signed up 83 new members and many testers took advantage of the offers of free testing that were sponsored by various surname projects with the hope of getting the US testers' genealogy extended "across the pond". Debbie also reported that she, Brian Swann, Katherine Borges, Emily Aulicino, James Irvine, Chris Pomery and Geoff Swinfield met up with Dr. Bruce Winney from the People of the British Isles Project and Dr. Turi King. She tells me, "They have some very interesting results showing distinct DNA regions within the UK. They're finding ancient haploblocks that are specific to particular areas. There will be some papers coming out soon but it will be a while before the testing companies will be able to incorporate the results in their admixture analyses."
It is encouraging that WDYTYA Live! was such a success this year and that the interest in genetic genealogy appears to be ever increasing.
3. This week the OpenSNP blog announced the opportunity to apply for free genotyping from 23andMe. Phillipp from the study tells me, "First, we're looking for people who pass the tiny true/false test (and thus know a bit about the potential consequences of an open genotyping). We don't have any specific targets in genotypings - we thought that the more interesting, rare or unresearched a phenotype is, the more 'points' that person will get in the end. Then we have to adjust the amount of genotypings we can give out to 23andMe's delivery costs which seem to vary greatly by country." Not surprisingly, underrepresented types will get priority over "WEIRDS". Here is a video that has more details on their work.
4. 23andMe announced that Muhammad Ali has joined their efforts to research Parkinson's Disease and premiered their new video, featuring Ali, at his 70th birthday celebration last weekend. The 23andMe Parkinson's Initiative, launched in 2009, has the goal of genotyping 10,000 Parkinson's suffers to advance the research on the disease and "accelerate the search for a cure". Presently, they have 6,710 participants and are hoping that this new partnership will increase visibility and enrollment in the study. If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, please encourage them to join the fight against this terrible disease by applying for a free lifetime membership to 23andMe. (This initiative is close to my heart since my father died from Parkinson's in 2008.)
5. Happily, the results for the majority of the 23andMe raw data transfers to Family Tree DNA finally came in this week. Many customers experienced new genealogical successes with the resulting matches, including myself. I was excited to find a new Hemings-Jefferson descendant for my autosomal DNA Project.
Another banner week for genetic genealogy!
[Disclosure - my company StudioINTV has an existing production agreement with FTDNA that has no bearing on the opinions I express. I also receive a small commission from FTDNA on non-sale orders through my affiliate link, which I use to fund DNA tests. I am currently serving in a volunteer advisory position for 23andMe, for which I may receive a small number of 23andMe kits for my DNA research. Any opinions that I express here on my blog are my own and do not reflect those of management at either company. I receive no other compensation in relation to any of the companies or products referenced in my blog.]