Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Family Tree DNA Announcements: New Pricing, New Staff and a Discovery

Family Tree DNA made two announcements today.

The first shares the news that the Y-DNA12 test will be permanently offered at $49. The current $39 sale will end on March 31st, so if you want more of these tests order them now.  The basic mtDNA test will soon undergo a similar reduction. Family Tree DNA will also be adding new customer service and IT staff to keep up with the growing demand. This is all great news for the genetic genealogy community.

The second was a press release detailing the exciting scientific discovery that was made through a customer from the FTDNA database thanks to the astute project administrator Bonnie Schrack. I wrote about the genealogical implications of this discovery earlier this month here.

The following email was sent to project administrators (bolding mine):

It is with great satisfaction that we announce a permanent price change and other improvements that will positively impact your projects.

Due to the recent upgrade of our state-of-the-art laboratory, coupled with research and development into increasing lab efficiency, we are able to permanently offer the basic Y-DNA12 test for $49 beginning April 1, 2013. The current sale of Y12 at $39 will end at 11:59PM CST, March 31, 2013. We are also working on bringing down the price of the basic mtDNA test as well; we hope to have that accomplished during the first half of this year.

We understand that several projects have a minimum requirement of 37 markers for the Y-DNA test, but we’ve learned through the promotion with the lower price point on the Y-DNA12 last month, that it did not reduce the number of orders at the 37-marker level. Therefore, there was a net gain for the database, not only by increasing the number of members, but also increasing the number of potential upgrades to higher levels.

We hope that you can encourage family and friends who saw the price as a barrier to now come on board. It is our goal to ensure every single person is able to have the "DNA experience," at least at the basic level. We are working on a letter that you can send to family and friends to invite them to take advantage of the new pricing.

Customer Service:
Family Tree DNA is the only company exclusively dedicated to genetic genealogy and anthropology. We offer the widest range of tests, from the basic ones mentioned above to specific SNPs and all to way to the "Walk Through the Y" and the Full Mitochondrial Sequence.

Every month our lab in Houston processes tens of thousands of discrete tests.

Given the increase in the volume of orders and tests, we are adding additional people in our Customer Service department. These are all qualified personnel that receive very specific training and who give an individual answer to each email and phone call that they receive under almost every circumstance. Our policy has always been to answer email between 24 to 48 hours (excluding on weekends), and we are working towards coming back to this norm. We apologize for the inconvenience that delays beyond this norm have caused and we appreciate your patience and support while this situation is being corrected. 

Our IT Department has a number of responsibilities. The main ones are:
  1. Making sure that our Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) works flawlessly so that there are no mix-ups in the lab or errors during processing.
  2. Making sure that results coming out of the lab are seamlessly integrated with the personal records from our customers.
  3. Writing the code for new features to be implemented, whether those features are conceived in-house or at the suggestion of our customers.
Obviously, they also have to fix bugs, because as we know - unfortunately - bugs happen. Any of you that have iPhones, iPads or Android apps know that we receive almost daily notifications for updates which most of the time relate to bug fixes. That doesn’t mean we accept all bugs as inevitable—beyond a certain point they’re not acceptable, so we are also taking the necessary steps to improve this situation by hiring additional qualified people. We believe that the results will be noticed soon. Again, we apologize and appreciate your patience and support.

* * *
As we grow and remain the leading company in the field of genetic genealogy and anthropology, we want to recognize the vital contribution that you - the project administrators - have played in this field since we pioneered it in 2000. The recent groundbreaking paper "An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree," published in the most prestigious journal in the field, The American Journal of Human Genetics, and widely mentioned in the press, was generated from a sample analyzed at our lab. The paper was authored by a group that included Family Tree DNA group administrators, our lab people and a member of our Scientific Advisory Board among others. This is a testament not just to the quality of FTDNA's science, but also to your contribution as citizen scientists over the years. For that we sincerely THANK YOU!

Family Tree DNA
"History Unearthed Daily"

Family Tree DNA also released this press release today:

Family Tree DNA's Genomics Research Center Facilitates Discovery of Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree

-- By Offering Low Cost DNA Test, Family Tree DNA Aims to Expand Reach of DNA Testing to Encourage Further Exciting Discoveries About Human Origins

Houston/March 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Gene By Gene, Ltd., the Houston-based genomics and genetics testing company, announced that a unique DNA sample submitted via National Geographic's Genographic Project to its genetic genealogy subsidiary, Family Tree DNA, led to the discovery that the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree is potentially as old as 338,000 years.  This new information indicates that the last common ancestor of all modern Y chromosomes is 70 percent older than previously thought.

The surprising findings were published in the report "An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree" in The American Journal of Human Genetics earlier this month.  The study was conducted by a team of top research scientists, including lead scientist Dr. Michael F. Hammer of the University of Arizona, who currently serves on Gene By Gene's advisory board, and two of the company's staff scientists, Drs.Thomas and Astrid-Maria Krahn.

The DNA sample had originally been submitted to National Geographic's Genographic Project, the world's largest "citizen science" genetic research effort with more than 500,000 public participants to date, and was later transferred to Family Tree DNA's database for genealogical research.  Once in Family Tree DNA's database, long-time project administrator Bonnie Schrack noticed that the sample was very unique and advocated for further testing to be done.

"This whole discovery began, really, with a citizen scientist – someone very similar to our many customers who are interested in learning more about their family roots using one of our genealogy products," said Gene By Gene President Bennett Greenspan.  "While reviewing samples in our database, she recognized that this specific sample was unique and brought it to the attention of our scientists to do further testing.  The results were astounding and show the value of individuals undergoing DNA testing so that we can continue to grow our databases and discover additional critical information about human origins and evolution."

The discovery took place at Family Tree DNA's Genomic Research Center, a CLIA registered lab in Houston which has processed more than 5 million discrete DNA tests from more than 700,000 individuals and organizations, including participants in the Genographic Project.  Drs. Thomas and Astrid-Maria Krahn of Family Tree DNA conducted the company's Walk-Through-Y test on the sample and during the scoring process, quickly realized the unique nature of the sample, given the vast number of mutations.  Following their initial findings, Dr. Hammer and others joined to conduct a formal study, sequencing ~240 kb of the chromosome sample to identify private, derived mutations on this lineage, which has been named A00.

"Our findings indicate that the last common Y chromosome ancestor may have lived long before the first anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa about 195,000 years ago," said Dr. Michael Hammer.  "Furthermore, the sample, which came from an African American man living in South Carolina, matched Y chromosome DNA of males from a very small area in western Cameroon, indicating that the lineage is extremely rare in Africa today, and its presence in the US is likely due to the Atlantic slave trade.  This is a huge discovery for our field and shows the critical role direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies can play in science; this might not have been known otherwise."

Family Tree DNA recently dramatically reduced the price of its basic Y-DNA test by approximately 50%.  By offering the lowest-cost DNA test available on the market today, Gene By Gene and Family Tree DNA are working to eliminate cost as a barrier to individuals introducing themselves to personal genetic and genomic research.  They hope that expanding the pool of DNA samples in their database will lead to future important scientific discoveries.

About Gene By Gene, Ltd. Founded in 2000, Gene By Gene, Ltd. provides reliable DNA testing to a wide range of consumer and institutional customers through its four divisions focusing on ancestry, health, research and paternity.  Gene By Gene provides DNA tests through its Family Tree DNA division, which pioneered the concept of direct-to-consumer testing in the field of genetic genealogy more than a decade ago.  Gene by Gene is CLIA registered and through its clinical-health division DNA Traits offers regulated diagnostic tests.  DNA DTC is the Research Use Only (RUO) division serving both direct-to-consumer and institutional clients worldwide.  Gene By Gene offers AABB certified relationship tests through its paternity testing division, DNA Findings. The privately held company is headquartered in Houston, which is also home to its state-of-the-art Genomics Research Center.


  1. Interesting developments! Please note that the Perry family would like it to be known that neither of the men who were tested in the discovery of A00 live in South Carolina; that was the residence of their distant ancestor, Albert Perry.

    Bonnie Schrack

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Bonnie. I will change my Power Point presentations to reflect that as well.