What is a Population Bottleneck?

water being emptied from a blue glass bottleGenetic genealogists often hear the term population bottleneck referenced in various academic papers – but just what is that?  And why do we care?

A population bottleneck occurs when there is a dramatic reduction in the population of a particular group of people.  Think about the eruption of a volcano – Mt. Toba for example.

Human history is full of population reducing examples, some we know about, like the plague, but most we don’t.  And obviously, if the bottleneck was so severe that no one survived – then there are no descendants of those people today – and that’s an extinction event, not a bottleneck.  The only way we would ever know those people existed is if we found their remains and sequenced them today – like the Neanderthal and Denisovan skeletons.

As a point of clarity – the Neanderthal and Denisovan did survive – not as pure Neanderthals or Denisovans – but admixed into the homo sapiens population – and they are indeed, us.  If you have either European or Asian ancestry, then you have Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry too.

How could that be – all of Europe and Asia descended from these Archaic people?  Probably the after-effects of a population bottleneck where a small group of people went on to become a large group of people.

Let’s look at an example.

The best example I can think of is the migration of the Asian people into the Americas.  These first people would populate all of North and South America and would become the indigenous people of these continents – by whatever name is applied today.  First People, Native Americans, American Indians – they are all of the same stock and the result of at least one population bottleneck.

That first bottleneck occurred when some people crossed over the land bridge, Beringia, between Asia and what is now Alaska.

beringia map

Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central.

The bottleneck event that occurred there was that there weren’t very many people. It was probably a small group.  Possibly very small.  What do we know about them?

There were obviously males and females.

Assuming for purposes of discussion that all of the people who founded the Native American population came at once, or in what is referred to as one wave, we know that there were at least two men and 5 women.

How do we know that?  Because today we have Y haplogroups Q and C in the Native population and mitochondrial haplogroups A, B, C, D and X in that population as well.  Since the Y chromosome is passed from father to son unadmixed with any DNA from the mother, the haplogroups we see today are directly descended from those original founders.  Mitochondrial DNA is passed from the mother to all of her children, but only the females pass it on, so we get a direct pipeline view back to the founding mothers.

There may have been more individuals and haplogroups that arrived.  Some may have died out in Beringia or afterwards in subsequent bottleneck events.

Let’s say the group stayed together for a while.  Then, it got too big to support itself comfortably on the resources available.  In other words, the population began depleting the available resources.  So, the group separated by a few miles so that they could draw off of a different landscape where food was more abundant.

One group went 20 miles east and one group went 20 miles south.  It wasn’t meant to be permanent, but eventually, the split became permanent as that scenario repeated itself over time.

Eventually, one of the groups moved further south and small groups broke off from time to time and moved east across what would be the US and Canada.  Part of the group continued south along the Pacific and would populate Mexico, Central and South America.

Let’s say that one of those small bands of people that headed east wound up living in Montana, 12,500 years ago.  A child died, and they buried that child.

The group they separated from continued south and their descendants are found throughout Mexico, Central and South American today.

That child’s name is Anzick.  His skeleton was found in 1968 and his full genome was sequenced before he was reburied in 2013.  When his DNA was sequenced, we discovered, much to our amazement, that Anzick indeed matched people, primarily people from south of the US, at a level that could be interpreted to be contemporary.  How could that possibly be?

Think about a bottleneck in this fashion.

There are 4 people, 2 couples.  Each person’s DNA is represented by a color.  The two males are blue and green and the 2 females are pink and yellow, like on the left side of the pedigree chart shown below.

perez autosomal

In the first generation, they pass their DNA to their children and the children are blue/yellow and green/pink.  In the second generation, the children intermarry with the other couple’s children – because there are no choices.  All of the grandchildren of the original couple have DNA that is blue, yellow, green and pink.  The children and grandchildren don’t all carry the same segments of blue, yellow, green and pink – but all of them carry some part of the original 4 founders.  There is no orange or turquoise or red DNA to be found, so forever, until new people enter the landscape, they will pass the same segments of blue, green, yellow and pink DNA to their descendants.  In an isolated environment, they might not meet new humans for thousands of years – lets’ say 10,000 years.

So, if the Anzick child had blue, yellow, green and pink DNA and the contemporary Native people living in South America have blue, yellow, green and pink Native DNA from those same four founding ancestors, it stands to reason that they are going to match – because it’s the exact same DNA that has been passed around and around for thousands of years.

This matching is the effect of a population bottleneck.

We can think of other bottleneck events too.  For example, the Acadians were a bottleneck event.  A few shiploads of French Catholic people on an Island in the early 1600s – they didn’t have a lot of choice in terms of spouses. The genealogy saying is that if you’re related to one Acadian, you’re related to all Acadians, and it’s pretty much true.  Same with the Pilgrims and the individuals who came over on the Mayflower.

Some bottlenecks are religiously induced – Amish, Mennonite and Jewish, for example.  These people marry only within their religion.  Today, that’s called endogamy – but it’s a form of a bottleneck event.

We see the results of bottleneck events today in three ways in our DNA.  In both Y and mitochondrial DNA, we often see specific haplogroups or subgroups associated with specific populations – like Q and C in Native American Y DNA and subsets of A, B, C, D, X and possibly M in Native American mitochondrial DNA.

We also see the effects of bottleneck events in autosomal DNA.  We talk about segments that are IBD, identical by descent, and IBS, identical by state.  Identical by descent typically means we can attribute the DNA segment to a specific ancestor via triangulation.  Often, everything we can’t identify gets tossed into the IBS box, but it really shouldn’t.

When you hear people talk about IBS, or autosomal DNA segments that are identical by state, there are really two possibilities.  One is that the DNA is identical by chance.

The other option is that the DNA is identical by population.  This means that the DNA does indeed match because it came from a common ancestor – but that ancestor is beyond the genealogical timeframe.  That doesn’t mean the information isn’t useful.  Indeed, I think it’s very useful.  I want to know if a segment of my DNA is Native, even if I share that segment with lots of other Native people.  In fact, that’s exactly HOW we determine a specific autosomal segment is affiliated with Native or any other population group of people.  Certain segments are found in a higher percentage across the entire population group.  So, to throw these out in personal genetic genealogy by phasing which removes population based matches is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  I have several matches on my spreadsheet where I have the notation “Mennonite” or “Acadian” for example, because while I can’t sort out which specific ancestor the DNA came from, it assuredly came from the Acadian population based on the matches – and that’s very useful information.

Population bottlenecks may seem like a scientific term referencing something that happened long ago, but the effects of bottlenecks can be found in every one of us, beginning with Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA and probably including ancestors who survived, or willingly embraced beliefs which in essence created historical bottlenecks.

Peopling of Europe 2014 – Identifying the Ghost Population

Beginning with the full sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, first published in May 2010 by the Max Planck Institute with Svante Paabo at the helm, and followed shortly thereafter with a Denisovan specimen, we began to unravel our ancient history.

neanderthal reconstructed

Neanderthal man, reconstructed at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo

The photo below shows a step in the process of extracting DNA from ancient bones at Max Planck.

planck extraction

Our Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups take us back thousands of years in time, but at some point, where and how people were settling and intermixing becomes fuzzy. Ancient DNA can put the people of that time and place in context.  We have discovered that current populations do not necessarily represent the ancient populations of a particular locale.

Recent information discovered from ancient burials tells us that the people of Europe descend from a 3 pronged model. Until recently, it was believed that Europeans descended from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers, a two-pronged model.

Previously, it was believed that Europe was peopled by the ancient hunter-gatherers, the Paleolithic, who originally settled in Europe beginning about 45,000 years ago. At this time, the Neanderthal were already settled in Europe but weren’t considered to be anatomically modern humans, and it was believed, incorrectly, that the two groups did not interbreed.  These hunter-gatherers were the people who settled in Europe before the last major ice age, the Younger Dryas, taking refuge in the southern portions of Europe and Eurasia, and repeopling the continent after the ice receded, about 12,000 years ago.  By that time, the Neanderthals were gone, or as we now know, at least partially assimilated.

This graphic shows Europe during the last ice age.

ice age euripe

The second settlement wave, the agriculturalist farmers from the Near East either overran or integrated with the hunter-gatherers in the Neolithic period, depending on which theory you subscribe to, about 8000-10,000 years ago.

2012 – Ancient Northern European (ANE) Hints

Beginning in 2012, we began to see hints of a third lineage that contributed to the peopling of Europe as well, from the north. Buried in the 2012 paper, Estimating admixture proportions and dates with ADMIXTOOLS by Patterson et al, was a very interesting tidbit.  This new technique showed a third population, referred to by many as a “ghost population”, because no one knew who they were, that contributed to the European population.

patterson ane

The new population was termed Ancient North Eurasian, or ANE.

Dienekes covered this paper in his blog, but without additional information, in the community in general, there wasn’t much more than a yawn.

2013 – Mal’ta Child Stirs Excitement

The first real hint of meat on the bones of ANE came in the form of ancient DNA analysis of a 24,000 year old Siberian boy that has come to be named Mal’ta (Malta) Child. In the original paper, by Raghaven et al, Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans, he was referred to as MA-1.  I wrote about this in my article titled Native American Gene Flow – Europe?, Asia and the Americas.   Dienekes wrote about this paper as well.

This revelation caused quite a stir, because it was reported that the Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% Western Eurasian.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this was immediately interpreted to mean that Native Americans had come directly from Europe which is not what this paper said, nor inferred.  It was also inferred that the haplogroups of this child, R* (Y) and U (mtDNA) were Native American, which is also incorrect.  To date, there is no evidence for migration to the New World from Europe in ancient times, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still looking for that evidence in early burials.

What this paper did show was that Europeans and Native Americans shared a common ancestor, and that the Siberian population had contributed to the European population as well as the Native American population.  In other words, descendants settled in both directions, east and west.

The most fascinating aspect of this paper was the match distribution map, below, showing which populations Malta child matched most closely.

malta child map

As you can see, MA-1, Malta Child, matches the Native American population most closely, followed by the northern European and Greenland populations. The further south in Europe and Asia, the more distant the matches and the darker the blue.

2013 – Michael Hammer and Haplogroup R

Last fall at the Family Tree DNA conference, Dr. Michael Hammer, from the Hammer Lab at the University of Arizona discussed new findings relative to ancient burials, specifically in relation to haplogroup R, or more specifically, the absence of haplogroup R in those early burials.

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Based on the various theories and questions, ancient burials were enlightening.

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In 2013, there were a total of 32 burials from the Neolithic period, after farmers arrived from the Near East, and haplogroup R did not appear. Instead, haplogroups G, I and E were found.

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What this tells us is that haplogroup R, as well as other haplogroup, weren’t present in Europe at this time. Having said this, these burials were in only 4 locations and, although unlikely, R could be found in other locations.

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Last year, Dr. Hammer concluded that haplogroup R was not found in the Paleolithic and likely arrived with the Neolithic farmers. That shook the community, as it had been widely believed that haplogroup R was one of the founding European haplogroups.

hammer 2013-12

While this provided tantalizing information, we still needed additional evidence. No paper has yet been published that addresses these findings.  The mass full sequencing of the Y chromosome over this past year with the introduction of the Big Y will provide extremely valuable information about the Y chromosome and eventually, the migration path into and across Europe.

2014 – Europe’s Three Ancient Tribes

In September 2014, another paper was published by Lazaridis et al that more fully defined this new ANE branch of the European human family tree.  An article in BBC News titled Europeans drawn from three ancient ‘tribes’ describes it well for the non-scientist.  Of particular interest in this article is the artistic rendering of the ancient individual, based on their genetic markers.  You’ll note that they had dark skin, dark hair and blue eyes, a rather unexpected finding.

In discussing the paper, David Reich from Harvard, one of the co-authors, said, “Prior to this paper, the models we had for European ancestry were two-way mixtures. We show that there are three groups. This also explains the recently discovered genetic connection between Europeans and Native Americans.  The same Ancient North Eurasian group contributed to both of them.”

The paper, Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans, appeared as a letter in Nature and is behind a paywall, but the supplemental information is free.

The article summary states the following:

We sequenced the genomes of a ~7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ~8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes1, 2, 3, 4 with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians3, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations’ deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ~44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

This paper utilized ancient DNA from several sites and composed the following genetic contribution diagram that models the relationship of European to non-European populations.

Lazaridis tree

Present day samples are colored purple, ancient in red and reconstructed ancestral populations in green. Solid lines represent descent without admixture and dashed lines represent admixture.  WHG=western European hunter-gatherer, EEF=early European farmer and ANE=ancient north Eurasian

2014 – Michael Hammer on Europe’s Ancestral Population

For anyone interested in ancient DNA, 2014 has been a banner years. At the Family Tree DNA conference in Houston, Texas, Dr. Michael Hammer brought the audience up to date on Europe’s ancestral population, including the newly sequenced ancient burials and the information they are providing.

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Dr. Hammer said that ancient DNA is the key to understanding the historical processes that led up to the modern. He stressed that we need to be careful inferring that the current DNA pattern is reflective of the past because so many layers of culture have occurred between then and now.

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Until recently, it was assumed that the genes of the Neolithic farmers replaced those of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. Ancient DNA is suggesting that this is not true, at least not on a wholesale level.

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The theory, of course, is that we should be able to see them today if they still exist. The migration and settlement pattern in the slide below was from the theory set forth in the 1990s.

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In 2013, Dr. Hammer discussed the theory that haplogroup R1b spread into Europe with the farmers from the Near East in the Neolithic. This year, he expanded upon that topic that based on the new findings from ancient burials.

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Last year, Dr. Hammer discussed 32 burials from 4 sites. Today, we have information from 15 ancient DNA sites and many of those remains have been full genome sequenced.

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Information from papers and recent research suggests that Europeans also have genes from a third source lineage, nicknamed the “ghost population of North Eurasia.”

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Scientists are finding a signal of northeast Asian related admixture in northern Europeans, first suggested in 2012.  This was confirmed with the sequencing of Malta child and then in a second sequencing of Afontova Gora2 in south central Siberia.

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We have complete genomes from nine ancient Europeans – Mesolithic hunter gatherers and Neothilic farmers. Hammer refers to the Mesolithic here, which is a time period between the Paleolithic (hunter gatherers with stone tools) and the Neolithic (farmers).

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In the PCA charts, shown above, you can see that Europeans and people from the Near East cluster separately, except for a bridge formed by a few Mediterranean and Jewish populations. On the slide below, the hunter-gatherers (WHG) and early farmers (EEF) have been overlayed onto the contemporary populations along with the MA-1 (Malta Child) and AG2 (Afontova Gora2) representing the ANE.

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When sequenced, separate groups formed including western hunter gathers and early european farmers include Otzi, the iceman.  A third group is the north south clinal variation with ANE contributing to northern European ancestry.  The groups are represented by the circles, above.

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Dr. Hammer said that the team who wrote the “Ancient Human Genomes” paper just recently published used an F3 test, results shown above, which shows whether populations are an admixture of a reference population based on their entire genome. He mentioned that this technique goes well beyond PCA.

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Mapped onto populations today, most European populations are a combination of the three early groups. However, the ANE is not found in the ancient Paleolithic or Neolithic burials.  It doesn’t arrive until later.

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This tells us that there was a migration event 45,000 years ago from the Levant, followed about 7000 years ago by farmers from the Near East, and that ANE entered the population some time after that. All Europeans today carry some amount of ANE, but ancient burials do not.

These burials also show that southern Europe has more Neolithic farmer genes and northern Europe has more Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherer genes.

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Pigmentation for light skin came with farmers – blue eyes existed in hunter gatherers even though their skin was dark.

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Dr. Hammer created these pie charts of the Y and mitochondrial haplogroups found in the ancient burials as compared to contemporary European haplogroups.

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The pie chart on the left shows the haplogroups of the Mesolithic burials, all haplogroup I2 and subclades. Note that in the current German population today, no I2a1b and no I1 was found.  The chart on the right shows current Germans where haplogroup I is a minority.

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Therefore, we can conclude that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be identified as a Paleolithic/Mesolithic haplogroup.

This information shows that the past is very different from today.

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In 2014 we have many more burials that have been sequenced than last year, as shown on the map above.

Green represents Neolithic farmers, red are Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, brown at bottom right represents more recent samples from the Metallic age.

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There are a total of 48 Neolithic burials where haplogroup G dominates. In the Mesolithic, there are a total of six haplogroup I.

This suggests that haplogroup I is a good candidate to be the father of the Paleolithic/Mesolithic and haplogroup G, the founding father of the Neolithic.

In addition to haplogroup G in the Neolithic, one sample of both E1b1b1 (M35) and C were also found in Spain.  E1b1b1 isn’t surprising given it’s north African genesis, but C was quite interesting.

The Metal ages, which according to wiki begin about 3300BC in Europe, is where haplogroup R, along with I1, first appear.

diffusion of metallurgy

Please note that the diffusion of melallurgy map above is not part of Dr. Hammer’s presentation. I have added it for clarification.

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Nothing is constant in Europe. The Y DNA was very upheaved, as indicated on the graphic above.  Mitochondrial DNA shifted from pre-Neolithic to Neolithic which isn’t terribly different from the present day.

Dr. Hammer did not say this, but looking at the Y versus the mtDNA haplogroups, I wonder if this suggests that indeed there was more of a replacement of the males in the population, but that the females were more widely assimilated. This would certainly make sense, especially if the invaders were warriors and didn’t have females with them.  They would have taken partners from the invaded population.

Haplogroup G represents the spread of farming into Europe.

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The most surprising revelation is that haplogroup R1b appears to have emerged after the Neolithic agriculture transition. Given that just three years ago we thought that haplogroup R1b was one of the original European settlers thousands of years ago, based on the prevalence of haplogroup R in Europe today, at about 50%, this is a surprising turn of events.  Last year’s revelation that R was maybe only 7000-8000 years old in Europe was a bit of a whammy, but the age of R in Europe in essence just got halved again and the source of R1b changed from the Near East to the Asian steppes.

Obviously, something conferred an advantage to these R1b men. Given that they arrived in the early Metalic age, was it weapons and chariots that enabled the R1b men who arrived to quickly become more than half of the population?

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The Bronze Age saw the first use of metal to create weapons. Warrior identity became a standard part of daily life.  Celts ranged over Europe and were the most dominant iron age warriors.  Indo-European languages and chariots arrived from Asia about this time.

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The map above shows the Hallstadt and LaTene Celtic cultures in Europe, about 600BC. This was not a slide presented by Dr. Hammer.

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Haplogroup R1b was not found in an ancient European context prior to a Bell Beaker period burial in Germany 4.8-4.0 kya (thousand years ago, i.e. 4,800-4,000 years ago).  R1b arrives about 4.6 kya and is also found in a Corded Ware culture burial in Germany.  A late introduction of these lineages which now predominate in Europe corresponds to the autosomal signal of the entry of Asian and Eastern European steppe invaders into western Europe.

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Local expansion occurred in Europe of R1b subgroups U106, L21 and U152.

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A current haplogroup R distribution map that reflects the findings of this past year is shown above.

Haplogroup I is interesting for another reason. It looks like haplogroup I2a1b (M423) may have been replaced by I1 which expanded after the Mesolithic.

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On the slide above, the Loschbour sample from Luxembourg was mapped onto a current haplogroup I SNP map where his closest match is a current day Russian.

One of the benefits of ancient DNA genome processing is that we will be able to map current trees into maps of old SNPs and be able to tell who we match most closely.

Autosomal DNA can also be mapped to see how much of our DNA is from which ancient population.

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Dr. Hammer mapped the percentages of European Mesolithic/Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in blue, Neolithic Farmers from the Near East in magenta and Asian Steppe Invaders representing ANE in yellow, over current populations. Note the ancient DNA samples at the top of the list.  None of the burials except for Malta Child carry any yellow, indicating that the ANE entered the European population with the steppe invaders; the same group that brought us haplogroup R and possibly I1.

Dr. Hammer says that ANE was introduced to and assimilated into the European population by one or more incursions. We don’t know today if ANE in Europeans is a result of a single blast event or multiple events.  He would like to do some model simulations and see if it is related to timing and arrival of swords and chariots.

We know too that there are more recent incursions, because we’re still missing major haplogroups like J.

The further east you go, meaning the closer to the steppes and Volga region, the less well this fits the known models. In other words, we still don’t have the whole story.

At the end of the presentation, Michael was asked if the whole genomes sequenced are also obtaining Y STR data, which would allow us to compare our results on an individual versus a haplogroup level. He said he didn’t know, but he would check.

Family Tree DNA was asked if they could show a personal ancient DNA map in myOrigins, perhaps as an alternate view. Bennett took a vote and that seemed pretty popular, which he interpreted as a yes, we’d like to see that.

In Summary

The advent of and subsequent drop in the price of whole genome sequencing combined with the ability to extract ancient DNA and piece it back together have provided us with wonderful opportunities.  I think this is jut the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to learn more.

If you are interested in other articles I’ve written about ancient DNA, check out these links:

Ancient DNA Matches – What Do They Mean?

The good news is that my three articles about the Anzick and other ancient DNA of the past few days have generated a lot of interest.

The bad news is that it has generated hundreds of e-mails every day – and I can’t possibly answer them all personally.  So, if you’ve written me and I don’t reply, I apologize and  I hope you’ll understand.  Many of the questions I’ve received are similar in nature and I’m going to answer them in this article.  In essence, people who have matches want to know what they mean.

Q – I had a match at GedMatch to <fill in the blank ancient DNA sample name> and I want to know if this is valid.

A – Generally, when someone asks if an autosomal match is “valid,” what they really mean is whether or not this is a genealogically relevant match or if it’s what is typically referred to as IBS, or identical by state.  Genealogically relevant samples are referred to as IBD, or identical by descent.  I wrote about that in this article with a full explanation and examples, but let me do a brief recap here.

In genealogy terms, IBD is typically used to mean matches over a particular threshold that can be or are GENEALOGICALLY RELEVANT.  Those last two words are the clue here.  In other words, we can match them with an ancestor with some genealogy work and triangulation.  If the segment is large, and by that I mean significantly over the threshold of 700 SNPs and 7cM, even if we can’t identify the common ancestor with another person, the segment is presumed to be IBD simply because of the math involved with the breakdown of segment into pieces.  In other words, a large segment match generally means a relatively recent ancestor and a smaller segment means a more distant ancestor.  You can readily see this breakdown on this ISOGG page detailing autosomal DNA transmission and breakdown.

Unfortunately, often smaller segments, or ones determined to be IBS are considered to be useless, but they aren’t, as I’ve demonstrated several times when utilizing them for matching to distant ancestors.  That aside, there are two kinds of IBS segments.

One kind of IBS segment is where you do indeed share a common ancestor, but the segment is small and you can’t necessarily connect it to the ancestor.  These are known as population matches and are interpreted to mean your common ancestor comes from a common population with the other person, back in time, but you can’t find the common ancestor.  By population, we could mean something like Amish, Jewish or Native American, or a country like Germany or the Netherlands.

In the cases where I’ve utilized segments significantly under 7cM to triangulate ancestors, those segments would have been considered IBS until I mapped them to an ancestor, and then they suddenly fell into the IBD category.

As you can see, the definitions are a bit fluid and are really defined by the genealogy involved.

The second kind of IBS is where you really DON’T share an ancestor, but your DNA and your matches DNA has managed to mutate to a common state by convergence, or, where your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA combined form a pseudo match, where you match someone on a segment run long enough to be considered a match at a low level.  I discussed how this works, with examples, in this article.  Look at example four, “a false match.”

So, in a nutshell, if you know who your common ancestor is on a segment match with someone, you are IBD, identical by descent.  If you don’t know who your common ancestor is, and the segment is below the normal threshold, then you are generally considered to be IBS – although that may or may not always be true.  There is no way to know if you are truly IBS by population or IBS by convergence, with the possible exception of phased data.

Data phasing is when you can compare your autosomal DNA with one or both parents to determine which half you obtained from whom.  If you are a match by convergence where your DNA run matches that of someone else because the combination of your parents DNA happens to match their segment, phasing will show that clearly.  Here’s an example for only one location utilizing only my mother’s data phased with mine.  My father is deceased and we have to infer his results based on my mother’s and my own.  In other words, mine minus the part I inherited from my mother = my father’s DNA.

My Result My Result Mother’s Result Mother’s Result Father’s Inferred Result Father’s Inferred Result

In this example of just one location, you can see that I carry a T and an A in that location.  My mother carries a T and a G, so I obviously inherited the T from her because I don’t have a G.  Therefore, my father had to have carried at least an A, but we can’t discern his second value.

This example utilized only one location.  Your autosomal data file will hold between 500,000 and 700,000 location, depending on the vendor you tested with and the version level.

You can phase your DNA with that of your parent(s) at GedMatch.  However, if both of your parents are living, an easier test would be to see if either of your parents match the individual in question.  If neither of your parents match them, then your match is a result of convergence or a data read error.

So, this long conversation about IBD and IBS is to reach this conclusion.

All of the ancient specimens are just that, ancient, so by definition, you cannot find a genealogy match to them, so they are not IBD.  Best case, they are IBS by population.  Worse case, IBS by convergence.  You may or may not be able to tell the difference.  The reason, in my example earlier this week, that I utilized my mother’s DNA and only looked at locations where we both matched the ancient specimens was because I knew those matches were not by convergence – they were in fact IBS by population because my mother and I both matched Anzick.

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Q – What does this ancient match mean to me?

A – Doggone if I know.  No, I’m serious.  Let’s look at a couple possibilities, but they all have to do with the research you have, or have not, done.

If you’ve done what I’ve done, and you’ve mapped your DNA segments to specific ancestors, then you can compare your ancient matching segments to your ancestral spreadsheet map, especially if you can tell unquestionably which side the ancestral DNA matches.  In my case, shown above, the Clovis Anzik matched my mother and me on the same segment and we both matched Cousin Herbie.  We know unquestionably who our common ancestor is with cousin Herbie – so we know, in our family line, which line this segment of DNA shared with Anzick descends through.

ancient compare6

If you’re not doing ancestor mapping, then I guess the Anzick match would come in the category of, “well, isn’t that interesting.”  For some, this is a spiritual connection to the past, a genetic epiphany.  For other, it’s “so what.”

Maybe this is a good reason to start ancestor mapping!  This article tells you how to get started.

Q – Does my match to Anzick mean he is my ancestor?

A – No, it means that you and Anzick share common ancestry someplace back in time, perhaps tens of thousands of years ago.

Q – I match the Anzick sample.  Does this prove that I have Native American heritage? 

A – No, and it depends.  Don’t you just hate answers like this?

No, this match alone does not prove Native American heritage, especially not at IBS levels.  In fact, many people who don’t have Native heritage match small segments?  How can this be?  Well, refer to the IBS by convergence discussion above.  In addition, Anzick child came from an Asian population when his ancestors migrated, crossing from Asia via Beringia.  That Eurasian population also settled part of Europe – so you could be matching on very small segments from a common population in Eurasia long ago.  In a paper just last year, this was discussed when Siberian ancient DNA was shown to be related to both Native Americans and Europeans.

In some cases, a match to Anzick on a segment already attributed to a Native line can confirm or help to confirm that attribution.  In my case, I found the Anzick match on segments in the Lore family who descend from the Acadians who were admixed with the Micmac.  I have several Anzick match segments that fit that criteria.

A match to Anzick alone doesn’t prove anything, except that you match Anzick, which in and of itself is pretty cool.

Q – I’m European with no ancestors from America, and I match Anzick too.  How can that be?

A – That’s really quite amazing isn’t it.  Just this week in Nature, a new article was published discussing the three “tribes” that settled or founded the European populations.  This, combined with the Siberian ancient DNA results that connect the dots between an ancient population that contributed to both Europeans and Native Americans explains a lot.

3 European Tribes

If you think about it, this isn’t a lot different than the discovery that all Europeans carry some small amount of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.

Well, guess what….so does Anzick.

Here are his matches to the Altai Neanderthal.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
2 241484216 242399416 1.1 138
3 19333171 21041833 2.6 132
6 31655771 32889754 1.1 133

He does not match the Caucasus Neanderthal.  He does, however, match the Denisovan individual on one location.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
3 19333171 20792925 2.1 107

Q – Maybe the scientists are just wrong and the burial is not 12,500 years old,  maybe just 100 years old and that’s why the results are matching contemporary people.

A – I’m not an archaeologist, nor do I play one…but I have been closely involved with numerous archaeological excavations over the past decade with The Lost Colony Research Group, several of which recovered human remains.  The photo below is me with Anne Poole, my co-director, sifting at one of the digs.

anne and me on dig

There are very specific protocols that are followed during and following excavation and an error of this magnitude would be almost impossible to fathom.  It would require  kindergarten level incompetence on the part of not one, but all professionals involved.

In the Montana Anzick case, in the paper itself, the findings and protocols are both discussed.  First, the burial was discovered directly beneath the Clovis layer where more than 100 tools were found, and the Clovis layer was undisturbed, meaning that this is not a contemporary burial that was buried through the Clovis layer.  Second, the DNA fragmentation that occurs as DNA degrades correlated closely to what would be expected in that type of environment at the expected age based on the Clovis layer.  Third, the bones themselves were directly dated using XAD-collagen to 12,707-12,556 calendar years ago.  Lastly, if the remains were younger, the skeletal remains would match most closely with Native Americans of that region, and that isn’t the case.  This graphic from the paper shows that the closest matches are to South Americans, not North Americans.

anzick matches

This match pattern is also confirmed independently by the recent closest GedMatch matches to South Americans.

Q – How can this match from so long ago possibly be real?

A – That’s a great question and one that was terribly perplexing to Dr. Svante Paabo, the man who is responsible for producing the full genome sequence of the first, and now several more, Neanderthals.  The expectation was, understanding autosomal DNA gets watered down by 50% in every generation though recombination, that ancient genomes would be long gone and not present in modern populations.  Imagine Svante’s surprise when he discovered that not only isn’t true, but those ancient DNA segmetns are present in all Europeans and many Asians as well.  He too agonized over the question about how this is possible, which he discussed in this great video.  In fact he repeated these tests over and over in different ways because he was convinced that modern individuals could not carry Neanderthal DNA – but all those repeated tests did was to prove him right.  (Paabo’s book, Neanderthal Man, In Search of Lost Genomes is an incredible read that I would highly recommend.)

What this means is that the population at one time, and probably at several different times, had to be very small.  In fact, it’s very likely that many times different pockets of the human race was in great jeopardy of dying out.  We know about the ones that survived.  Probably many did perish leaving no descendants today.  For example, no Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA has been found in any living or recent human.

In a small population, let’s say 5 males and 5 females who some how got separated from their family group and founded a new group, by necessity.  In fact, this could well be a description of how the Native Americans crossed Beringia.  Those 5 males and 5 females are the founding population of the new group.  If they survive, all of the males will carry the men’s haplogroups – let’s say they are Q and C, and all of the descendants will carry the mitochondrial haplogroups of the females – let’s say A, B, C, D and X.

There is a very limited amount of autosomal DNA to pass around.  If all of those 10 people are entirely unrelated, which is virtually impossible, there will be only 10 possible combinations of DNA to be selected from.  Within a few generations, everyone will carry part of those 10 ancestor’s DNA.  We all have 8 ancestors at the great-grandparent level.  By the time those original settlers’ descendants had great-great-grandparents – of which each one had 16, at least 6 of those original people would be repeated twice in their tree.

There was only so much DNA to be passed around.  In time, some of the segments would no longer be able to be recombined because when you look at phasing, the parents DNA was exactly the same, example below.  This is what happens in endogamous populations.

My Result My Result Mother’s Result Mother’s Result Father’s Result Father’s  Result

Let’s say this group’s descendants lived without contact with other groups, for maybe 15,000 years in their new country.  That same DNA is still being passed around and around because there was no source for new DNA.  Mutations did occur from time to time, and those were also passed on, of course, but that was the only source of changed DNA – until they had contact with a new population.

When they had contact with a new population and admixture occurred, the normal 50% recombination/washout in every generation began – but for the previous 15,000 years, there had been no 50% shift because the DNA of the population was, in essence, all the same.  A study about the Ashkenazi Jews that suggests they had only a founding population of about 350 people 700 years ago was released this week – explaining why Ashkenazi Jewish descendants have thousands of autosomal matches and match almost everyone else who is Ashkenazi.  I hope that eventually scientists will do this same kind of study with Anzick and Native Americans.

If the “new population” we’ve been discussing was Native Americans, their males 15,000 year later would still carry haplogroups Q and C and the mitochondrial DNA would still be A, B, C, D and X.  Those haplogroups, and subgroups formed from mutations that occurred in their descendants, would come to define their population group.

In some cases, today, Anzick matches people who have virtually no non-Native admixture at the same level as if they were just a few generations removed, shown on the chart below.

anzick gedmatch one to all

Since, in essence, these people still haven’t admixed with a new population group, those same ancient DNA segments are being passed around intact, which tells us how incredibly inbred this original small population must have been.  This is known as a genetic bottleneck.

The admixture report below is for the first individual on the Anzick one to all Gedmatch compare at 700 SNPs and 7cM, above.  In essence, this currently living non-admixed individual still hasn’t met that new population group.


If this “new population” group was Neanderthal, perhaps they lived in small groups for tens of thousands of years, until they met people exiting Africa, or Denisovans, and admixed with them.

There weren’t a lot of people anyplace on the globe, so by virtue of necessity, everyone lived in small population groups.  Looking at the odds of survival, it’s amazing that any of us are here today.

But, we are, and we carry the remains, the remnants of those precious ancestors, the Denisovans, the Neanderthals and Anzick.  Through their DNA, and ours, we reach back tens of thousands of years on the human migration path.  Their journey is also our journey.  It’s absolutely amazing and it’s no wonder people have so many questions and such a sense of enchantment.  But it’s true – and only you can determine exactly what this means to you.

Utilizing Ancient DNA at GedMatch

Mummy of 6 month old boy found in Greenland

It has been a wonderful week for those of us following ancient DNA full genome sequencing, because now we can compare our own results to those of the ancient people found whose DNA has been fully sequenced, including one Native American.

Felix Chandrakumar has uploaded the autosomal files of five ancient DNA specimens that have been fully sequenced to GedMatch.  Thanks Felix.

When news of these sequences first hit the academic presses, I was wishing for a way to compare our genomes – and now my wish has come true.

Utilizing GedMatch’s compare one to all function, I ran all of the sequences individually and found, surprisingly, that there are, in some cases, matches to contemporary people today.  I dropped the cM measure to 1 for both autosomal and X.

Please note that because these are ancient DNA sequences, they will all have some segments missing and none can be expected to be entirely complete.  Still, these sequences are far better than nothing.

1.  Montana Anzick at GedMatch

This is the only clearly Native American sample.



9-27-2014 – Please note that kit F999912 has been replaced by kit F999913.

10-23-2014 – Please note that kit F999913 has been replaced by kit F999919.

No matches at 1cM in the compare to all.  This must be because the SNP count is still at default thresholds, in light of information discovered later in this article.

Update – as it turns out, this kit was not finished processing when I did the one to one compare.  After it finished, the results were vastly different.  See this article for results.

2.  Paleo Eskimo from Greenland at GedMatch



Thirty-nine matches with segments as large at 3.8.  One group of matches appears to be a family.  One of these matches is my cousin’s wife.  That should lead to some interesting conversation around the table this holiday season!  All of these matches, except 1, are on the X chromosome.  This must be a function of these segments being passed intact for many generations.

I wrote about some unusual properties of X chromosomal inheritance and this seems to confirm that tendency in the X chromosome, or the matching thresholds are different at GedMatch for the X.

3.  Altai Neanderthal at GedMatch



One match to what is obviously another Neaderthal entry.

4.  Russian Causasus Neanderthal at GedMatch

Another contribution from the Neanderthal Genome Project.



No matches.

5.  Denisova at GedMatch



Two matches, one to yet another ancient entry and one to a contemporary individual on the X chromosome.

But now, for the fun part.

My Comparison

Before I start this section, I want to take a moment to remind everyone just how old these ancient segments are.

  • Anzick – about 12,500 years old
  • Paleo-Eskimo – about 4,000 years old
  • Altai Neanderthal – about 50,000 years old
  • Russian Caucasus Neanderthal – about 29,000 years old
  • Denisova – about 30,000 years old

In essence, the only way for these segments to survive intact to today would have been for them to enter the population of certain groups, as a whole, to be present in all of the members of that group, so that segment would no longer be divided and would be passed intact for many generation, until that group interbred with another group who did not carry that segment.  This is exactly what we see in endogamous populations today, such as the Askenazi Jewish population who is believed, based on their common shared DNA, to have descended from about 350 ancestors about 700 years ago.  Their descendants today number in the millions.

So, let’s see what we find.

I compared by own kit at GedMatch utilizing the one to one comparison feature, beginning with 500 SNPs and 1cM, dropping the SNP values to 400, then 300, then 200, until I obtained a match of some sort, if I obtained a match at all.

Typically in genetic genealogy, we’re looking for genealogy matches, so the default matching thresholds are set relatively high.  In this case, I’m looking for deep ancestral connections, if they exist, so I was intentionally forcing the thresholds low.  I’m particularly interested in the Anzick comparison, in light of my Native American and First Nations heritage.

The definition of IBS, identical by state, vs IBD, identical by descent segments varies by who is talking and in what context, but in essence, IBD means that there is a genealogy connection in the past several generations.

IBS means that the genealogy connection cannot be found and the IBS match can be a function of coming from a common population at some time in the past, or it can be a match by convergence, meaning that your DNA just happened to mutate to the same state as someone else’s.  If this is the case, then you wouldn’t expect to see multiple segments matching the same person and you would expect the matching segments to be quite short.  The chances of hundreds of SNPs just happening to align becomes increasingly unlikely the longer the matching SNP run.

So, having said that, here are my match results.


I had 2 matches at 400 SNPs, several at 300 and an entire list at 200, shown below.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
1 6769350 7734985 1.7 232
1 26552555 29390880 1.9 264
1 31145273 33730360 2.7 300
1 55655110 57069976 1.9 204
1 71908934 76517614 2.8 265
1 164064635 165878596 2.8 264
1 167817718 171330902 3.3 466
1 186083870 192208998 4.2 250
2 98606363 100815734 1.4 256
2 171132725 173388331 2.0 229
2 218855489 220373983 2.5 261
3 128892631 131141396 1.7 263
3 141794591 143848459 2.5 207
4 1767539 3571907 2.7 235
4 70345811 73405268 2.5 223
5 2340730 2982499 2.3 200
5 55899022 57881001 2.3 231
5 132734528 134538202 1.9 275
5 137986213 140659207 1.7 241
6 34390761 36370969 1.8 293
8 17594903 18464321 1.9 200
8 23758017 25732105 1.7 240
8 109589884 115297391 1.9 203
9 122177526 124032492 1.6 229
10 101195132 102661955 1.2 264
10 103040561 105596277 1.3 304
10 106135611 108371247 1.5 226
12 38689229 41184500 1.6 247
13 58543514 60988948 1.6 220
13 94528801 95252127 1.0 277
14 60929984 62997711 1.8 255
14 63724184 65357663 1.7 201
14 72345879 74206753 1.7 263
15 36850933 38329491 2.7 238
16 1631282 2985328 2.5 273
16 11917282 13220406 3.7 276
16 15619825 17324720 3.1 305
16 29085336 31390250 1.3 263
16 51215026 52902771 3.4 224
17 52582669 56643678 4.7 438
19 11527683 13235913 1.7 203
19 15613137 16316773 1.2 204
19 46195917 49338412 3.3 397
20 17126434 18288231 2.1 225
21 35367409 36969215 4.1 254
21 42399499 42951171 1.6 233
22 33988022 35626259 5.0 289

In my case, I’m particularly fortunate, because my mother tested her DNA as well.  By process of elimination, I can figure out which of my matches are through her, and then by inference, which are through my father or are truly IBS by convergence.

I carry Native heritage on both sides, but my mother’s is proven to specific Native ancestors where my father’s is only proven to certain lines and not yet confirmed through genealogy records to specific ancestors.

Because I had so many matches, quite to my surprise, I also compared my mother’s DNA to the Anzick sample, combined the two results and put them in a common spreadsheet, shown below.  White are my matches.  Pink are Mom’s matches, and the green markers are on the segments where we both match the Anzick sample, confirming that my match is indeed through mother.

ancient compare

We’ll work with this information more in a few minutes.


At 200 SNP level, 2 segments.

1 26535949 27884441 1.1 258
2 127654021 128768822 1.2 228

My mother matches on 9 segments, but neither of the two above, so they are either from my father’s side or truly IBS by convergence.

Altai Neanderthal

ancient compare2

Russian Neanderthal

Neither my mother nor I have any matches at 100SNPs and 1cM.


I have one match.

Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs
4 8782230 9610959 1.2 100

My mother matches 2 segments at 100 SNPs but neither match is the same as my segment.

Matching to Ancestral Lines

I’ve been mapping my DNA to specific ancestors utilizing the genealogy information of matches and triangulation for some time.  This consists of finding common ancestors with your matches.  Finding one person who matches you and maps to a common ancestor on a particular segment consists of a hint.  Finding two that share the same ancestral line and match you and each other on the same segment is confirmation – hence, the three of you triangulate.  More than three is extra gravy:)

I have also recorded other relevant information in my matches file, like the GedMatch Native chromosomal comparisons when I wrote “The Autosomal Me” series about hunting for my Native chromosomal segments.

So, after looking at the information above, it occurred to me that I should add this ancestral match information to my matches spreadsheet, just for fun, if nothing else.

I added these matches, noted the source as GedMatch and then sorted the results, anxious to see what we might find.  Would at least one of these segments fall into the proven Native segments or the matches to people who also descend from those lines?

What I found was both astonishing and confusing….and true to form to genealogy, introduced new questions.

I have extracted relevant matching groups from my spreadsheet and will discuss them and why they are relevant.  You can click on any of the images to see a larger image.

ancient compare3

This first set of matches is intensely interesting, and equally as confusing.

First, these matches are to both me and mother, so they are confirmed through my mother’s lines.  In case anyone notices, yes, I did switch my mother’s line color to white and mine to pink to be consistent with my master match spreadsheet coloration.

Second, both mother and I match the Anzick line on the matches I’ve utilized as examples.

Third, both 23andMe and Dr. Doug McDonald confirmed the segments in red as Native which includes the entire Anzick segment.

Fourth, utilizing the Gedmatch admixture tools, mother and I had this range in common.  I described this technique in “The Autosomal Me” series.

Fifth, these segments show up for two distinct genealogy lines that do not intersect until my grandparents, the Johann Michael Miller line AND the Acadian Lore line.

Sixth, the Acadian Lore line is the line with proven Native ancestors.

Seventh, the Miller line has no Native ancestors and only one opportunity for a Native ancestor, which is the unknown wife of Philip Jacob Miller who married about 1750 to a women rumored to be Magdalena Rochette, but research shows absolutely no source for that information, nor any Rochette family anyplace in any proximity in the same or surrounding counties to the Miller family.  The Miller’s were Brethren.  Furthermore, there is no oral history of a Native ancestor in this line, but there have been other hints along the way, such as the matching segments of some of the “cousins” who show as Native as well.

Eighth, this makes my head hurt, because this looks, for all the world, like Philip Jacob Miller who was living in Bedford County, PA when he married about 1750 may have married someone related to the Acadian lines who had intermarried with the Micmac.  While this is certainly possible, it’s not a possibility I would ever have suspected.

Let’s see what else the matches show.

ancient compare4

In this matching segment Mom and I both match Emma, who descends from Marie, a MicMac woman.  Mom’s Anzik match is part of this same segment.

ancient compare5

In this matching segment, Mom and I both match cousin Denny who descends from the Lore line who is Acadian and confirmed to have MicMac ancestry.  Mom’s Anzik segments all fit in this range as well.

ancient compare6

In this matching segment, cousin Herbie’s match to Mom and I falls inside the Anzick segments of both Mom and I.

ancient compare7

More matching to the proven Miller line.

ancient compare8

This last grouping with Mom is equally as confusing at the first.  Mom and I both match cousin Denny on the Lore side, proven Acadian.

Mom and I both match the Miller side too, and the Anzik for both of us falls dead center in these matches.

There are more, several more matches, that also indicate these same families, but I’m not including them because they don’t add anything not shown in these examples.  Interestingly enough, there are no pointers to other families, so this isn’t something random.  Furthermore, on my father’s side, as frustrating as it is, here are no Anzick matches that correlate with proven family lines.  ARGGHHHHHH……

On matches that I don’t share with mother, there is one of particular interest.

ancient compare9

You’ll notice that the Anzik and the Paleo-Greenland samples match each other, as well as me.  This is my match, and by inference, not through mother.  Unfortunately, the other people in this match group don’t know their ancestors or we can’t identify a common ancestor.

Given the genetic genealogy gold standard of checking to see if your autosomal matches match each other, I went back to GedMatch to see if the Paleo-Greenland kit matched the Clovis Anzik kit on this segment, and indeed, they do, plus many more segments as well.  So, at some time, in some place, the ancestors of these two people separated by thousands of miles were related to each other.  Their common ancestor would have either been in Asia or in the Northern part of Canada if the Paleo people from Greenland entered from that direction.

Regardless, it’s interesting, very interesting.

What Have I Learned?

Always do experiments.  You never know what you’ll find.

I’m much more closely related to the Anzick individual than I am to the others. This isn’t surprising given my Native heritage along with the endogamous culture of the Acadians.

My relationship level to these ancient people is as follows:

Lived Years Ago Relatedness Comments
Montana Anzick 12,500 107.4cM at 200 SNP level Confirmed to Lore (Acadian) and Miller, but not other lines
Greenland Paleo 4,000 2.3cM at 200 SNP level No family line matches, does match to Anzick in one location
Altai Neanderthal 50,000 2.1cM at 200 SNP level No family line matches
Russian Neanderthal 29,000 0
Denisovan 30,000 1.2cM at 200 SNP No family line matches

The Lores and the Millers

Looking further at the Lore and Miller lines, there are only two options for how these matching segments could have occurred.  There are too many for them all to be convergence, so we’ll have to assume that they are indeed because we shared a common population at some time and place.

The nature of how small the segments are testify that this is not a relatively recent common ancestor, but how “unrecent” is open to debate.  Given that Neanderthal and Denisovan ancient segments are found in all Europeans today, it’s certainly possible for these segments to be passed intact, even after thousands of years.

The confirmations to the Lore line come through proven Lore cousins and also through other proven Acadian non-specific matches.  This means that the Acadian population is highly endogamous and when I find an Acadian match, it often means that I’m related through many ancestors many times.  This, of course, increases the opportunity for the DNA to be passed forward, and decreases the opportunity for it to be lost in transmission, but it also complicates the genealogy greatly and makes determining which ancestor the DNA segment came from almost impossible.

However, I think we are safe to say the segments are from the Acadian population, although my assumption would be that they are from the Native Ancestors and not the French, given the high number of Anzick matches, Anzick being proven to be Native.  Having said that, that assumption may not be entirely correct.

The Miller line is relatively well documented and entirely from Germany/Switzerland, immigrating in the early 1700s, with the exception of the one unknown wife in the first generation married in the US.  Further examination would have to be done to discover if any of the matches came through Johann Michael Miller’s sons other than Philip Jacob Miller, my ancestor.  There are only three confirmed children, all sons.  If this segment shows up in Johann Michael Miller’s line not associated with son Philip Jacob Miller, then we would confirm that indeed the segment came from Europe and not a previously unknown Native or mixed wife of Philip Jacob.

Bottom Line

So, what’s the bottom line here?  I know far more than I did.  The information confirms, yet again, the Acadian Native lines, but it introduces difficult questions about the Miller line.  I have even more tantalizing questions for which I have no answers today, but I tell you what, I wouldn’t trade this journey along the genetic pathway with all of its unexpected bumps, rocks, slippery slopes and crevices for anything!!  That’s why it’s called an adventure!

Finding Native American Ethnic Results in Germanic People

I’m often asked about the significance of small percentages of autosomal DNA in results.  Specifically, the small percentages are often of Native American or results that would suggest Native admixture.  One of the first questions I always ask is whether or not the individual has Germanic or eastern European admixture.


Take a look at this map of the Invasion of the Roman Empire.  See the Huns and their path?

Hun map

It’s no wonder we’re so admixed.

Here’s a map of the Hunnic empire at its peak under Attila between the years 420-469.

Hun emplire

But that wasn’t the end of the Asian invasions.  The Magyars, who settled in Hungary arrived from Asia as well, in the 800s and 900s, as shown on this map from LaSalle University.

magyar map

Since both the Hungarians and some Germanic people descend from Asian populations, as do Native Americans, albeit thousands of years apart, it’s not unrealistic to expect that, as populations, they share a genetic connection.

Therefore, when people who carry heritage from this region of the world show small amounts of Native or Asian origin, I’m not surprised.  However, for Americans, trying to sort out their Native ethnic heritage, this is most unhelpful.

Let’s take a look at the perfect example candidate.  This man is exactly half Hungarian and half German.  Let’s see what his DNA results say, relative to any Asian or Native heritage, utilizing the testing companies and the free admixture tools at www.gedmatch.com.

He has not tested at Ancestry, but at Family Tree DNA, his myOrigins report 96% European, 4% Middle Eastern.  At 23andMe in speculative view, he shows 99.7 European and .2 sub-saharan African.

Moving to the admixture tools at GedMatch, MDLP is not recommended for Asian or Native ancestry, so I have excluded that tool.

Eurogenes K13 is the most recently updated admixture tool, so let’s take a look at that one first.

Eurogenes K13

 JK Eurogenes K13 v2

Eurogenes K13 showed 7% West Asian, which makes perfect sense considering his heritage, but it might be counted as “Native” in other circumstances, although I would certainly be very skeptical about counting it as such.

However, East Asian, Siberian and Amerindian would all be amalgamated into the Native American category, for a combined percentage of 1.31.

jk eurogenes k13 chart

However, selecting the “admixture proportions by chromosome” view shows something a bit different.  The cumulative percentages, by chromosome equate to 10.10%.  Some researchers mistakenly add this amount and use that as their percentage of Native ancestry.  This is not the case, because those are the portions of 100% of each individual chromosome, and the total would need to be divided by 22 to obtain the average value across all chromosomes.  The total is irrelevant, and the average may not reflect how the developer determines the amount of admixture because chromosomes are not the same size nor carry the same number of SNPs.  Questions relative to the functional underpinnings of each tool should be addressed to the developers.


I understand that there is a newer version of Dodecad, but that it has not been submitted to GedMatch for inclusion, per a discussion with GedMatch.  I can’t tell which of the Dodecad versions on GedMatch is the most current, so I ran the results utilizing both v3 and 12b.

jk dodecad v3

jk dodecad v3 chart

I hope v3 is not the most current, because it does not include any Native American category or pseudocategory – although there is a smattering of Northeast Asian at .27% and Southwest Asian at 1%.

Dodecad 12b below

jk dodecad 12b

The 12b version does show .52% Siberian and 2.6% Southwest Asian, although I’m not at all sure the Southwest Asian should be included.


jk harappaworld

jk harappaworld chart

Harappaworld shows .09 Siberian, .27% American (Native American), .23% Beringian and 1.8% Southwest Asian, although I would not include Southwest Asian in the Native calculation.

In Summary

Neither Family Tree DNA nor 23andMe find Native ancestry in our German/Hungarian tester, but all 3 of the admixture tools at Gedmatch find either small amounts of Native or Asian ancestry that could certainly be interpreted as Native, such as Siberian or Beringian.

Does this mean this German/Hungarian man has Native American ancestry?  Of course not, but it does probably mean that the Native population and his ancestral populations did share some genes from the same gene pool thousands of years ago.

While you might think this is improbable, or impossible, consider for a minute that every person outside of Africa today carries some percentage of Neanderthal DNA, and all Europeans also carry Denisovan DNA.  Our DNA does indeed have staying power over the millennia, especially once an entire population or group of people is involved.  We’ve recently seen this same type of scenarios in the full genome sequencing of a 24,000 year old Siberian male skeleton.

Our German/Hungarian man carries 2.4% Neanderthal DNA according to 23andMe and 2.7% according to the Genographic Project, which also reports that he carries 3.9% Denisovan.  The European average is about 2% for Neanderthal.

The net-net of this is that minority admixture is not always what it seems to be, especially when utilizing autosomal DNA to detect small amounts of Native American admixture.  The big picture needs to be taken into consideration.  Caution is advised.

When searching for Native admixture, when possible, both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA give specific answers for specific pedigree lines relative to ancestry.  Of course, to utilize Y or mtDNA, the tester must descend from the Native ancestor either directly paternally to test the male Y chromosome, or directly matrilineally to test the mitochondrial line.  You can read about this type of testing, and how it works, in my article, Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA.  You can also read about other ways to prove Native ancestry using autosomal DNA, including how to unravel which pedigree line the Native ancestry descends from, utilizing admixture tools, in the article, “The Autosomal Me.”

2013’s Dynamic Dozen – Top Genetic Genealogy Happenings

dna 8 ball

Last year I wrote a column at the end of the year titled  “2012 Top 10 Genetic Genealogy Happenings.”  It’s amazing the changes in this industry in just one year.  It certainly makes me wonder what the landscape a year from now will look like.

I’ve done the same thing this year, except we have a dozen.  I couldn’t whittle it down to 10, partly because there has been so much more going on and so much change – or in the case of Ancestry, who is noteworthy because they had so little positive movement.

If I were to characterize this year of genetic genealogy, I would call it The Year of the SNP, because that applies to both Y DNA and autosomal.  Maybe I’d call it The Legal SNP, because it is also the year of law, court decisions, lawsuits and FDA intervention.  To say it has been interesting is like calling the Eiffel Tower an oversized coat hanger.

I’ll say one thing…it has kept those of us who work and play in this industry hopping busy!  I guarantee you, the words “I’m bored” have come out of the mouth of no one in this industry this past year.

I’ve put these events in what I consider to be relatively accurate order.  We could debate all day about whether the SNP Tsunami or the 23andMe mess is more important or relevant – and there would be lots of arguing points and counterpoints…see…I told you lawyers were involved….but in reality, we don’t know yet, and in the end….it doesn’t matter what order they are in on the list:)

Y Chromosome SNP Tsunami Begins

The SNP tsumani began as a ripple a few years ago with the introduction at Family Tree DNA of the Walk the Y program in 2007.  This was an intensively manual process of SNP discovery, but it was effective.

By the time that the Geno 2.0 chip was introduced in 2012, 12,000+ SNPs would be included on that chip, including many that were always presumed to be equivalent and not regularly tested.  However, the Nat Geo chip tested them and indeed, the Y tree became massively shuffled.  The resolution to this tree shuffling hasn’t yet come out in the wash.  Family Tree DNA can’t really update their Y tree until a publication comes out with the new tree defined.  That publication has been discussed and anticipated for some time now, but it has yet to materialize.  In the mean time, the volunteers who maintain the ISOGG tree are swamped, to say the least.

Another similar test is the Chromo2 introduced this year by Britain’s DNA which scans 15,000 SNPs, many of them S SNPs not on the tree nor academically published, adding to the difficulty of figuring out where they fit on the Y tree.  While there are some very happy campers with their Chromo2 results, there is also a great deal of sloppy science, reporting and interpretation of “facts” through this company.  Kind of like Jekyll and Hyde.  See the Sloppy Science section.

But Walk the Y, Chromo2 and Geno 2.0, are only the tip of the iceburg.  The new “full Y” sequencing tests brought into the marketspace quietly in early 2013 by Full Genomes and then with a bang by Family Tree DNA with the their Big Y in November promise to revolutionize what we know about the Y chromosome by discovering thousands of previously unknown SNPs.  This will in effect swamp the Y tree whose branches we thought were already pretty robust, with thousands and thousands of leaves.

In essence, the promise of the “fully” sequenced Y is that what we might term personal or family SNPs will make SNP testing as useful as STR testing and give us yet another genealogy tool with which to separate various lines of one genetic family and to ratchet down on the time that the most common recent ancestor lived.










23andMe Comes Unraveled

The story of 23andMe began as the consummate American dotcom fairy tale, but sadly, has deteriorated into a saga with all of the components of a soap opera.  A wealthy wife starts what could be viewed as an upscale hobby business, followed by a messy divorce and a mystery run-in with the powerful overlording evil-step-mother FDA.  One of the founders of 23andMe is/was married to the founder of Google, so funding, at least initially wasn’t an issue, giving 23andMe the opportunity to make an unprecedented contribution in the genetic, health care and genetic genealogy world.

Another way of looking at this is that 23andMe is the epitome of the American Dream business, a startup, with altruism and good health, both thrown in for good measure, well intentioned, but poorly managed.  And as customers, be it for health or genealogy or both, we all bought into the altruistic “feel good” culture of helping find cures for dread diseases, like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer by contributing our DNA and responding to surveys.

The genetic genealogy community’s love affair with 23andMe began in 2009 when 23andMe started focusing on genealogy reporting for their tests, meaning cousin matches.  We, as a community, suddenly woke up and started ordering these tests in droves.  A few months later, Family Tree DNA also began offering this type of testing as well.  The defining difference being that 23andMe’s primary focus has always been on health and medical information with Family Tree DNA focused on genetic genealogy.  To 23andMe, the genetic genealogy community was an afterthought and genetic genealogy was just another marketing avenue to obtain more people for their health research data base.  For us, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For awhile, this love affair went along swimmingly, but then, in 2012, 23andMe obtained a patent for Parkinson’s Disease.  That act caused a lot of people to begin to question the corporate focus of 23andMe in the larger quagmire of the ethics of patenting genes as a whole.  Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, discussed this here.  It’s difficult to defend 23andMe’s Parkinson’s patent while flaying alive Myriad for their BRCA patent.  Was 23andMe really as altruistic as they would have us believe?

Personally, this event made me very nervous, but I withheld judgment.  But clearly, that was not the purpose for which I thought my DNA, and others, was being used.

But then came the Designer Baby patent in 2013.  This made me decidedly uncomfortable.  Yes, I know, some people said this really can’t be done, today, while others said that it’s being done anyway in some aspects…but the fact that this has been the corporate focus of 23andMe with their research, using our data, bothered me a great deal.  I have absolutely no issue with using this information to assure or select for healthy offspring – but I have a personal issue with technology to enable parents who would select a “beauty child,” one with blonde hair and blue eyes and who has the correct muscles to be a star athlete, or cheerleader, or whatever their vision of their as-yet-unconceived “perfect” child would be.  And clearly, based on 23andMe’s own patent submission, that is the focus of their patent.

Upon the issuance of the patent, 23andMe then said they have no intention of using it.  They did not say they won’t sell it.  This also makes absolutely no business sense, to focus valuable corporate resources on something you have no intention of using?  So either they weren’t being truthful, they lack effective management or they’ve changed their mind, but didn’t state such.

What came next, in late 2013 certainly points towards a lack of responsible management.

23andMe had been working with the FDA for approval the health and medical aspect of their product (which they were already providing to consumers prior to the November 22nd cease and desist order) for several years.  The FDA wants assurances that what 23andMe is telling consumers is accurate.  Based on the letter issued to 23andMe on November 22nd, and subsequent commentary, it appears that both entities were jointly working towards that common goal…until earlier this year when 23andMe mysteriously “somehow forgot” about the FDA, the information they owed them, their submissions, etc.  They also forgot their phone number and their e-mail addresses apparently as well, because the FDA said they had heard nothing from them in 6 months, which backdates to May of 2013.

It may be relevant that 23andMe added the executive position of President and filled it in June of 2013, and there was a lot of corporate housecleaning that went on at that time.  However, regardless of who got housecleaned, the responsibility for working with the FDA falls squarely on the shoulders of the founders, owners and executives of the company.  Period.  No excuses.  Something that critically important should be on the agenda of every executive management meeting.   Why?  In terms of corporate risk, this was obviously a very high risk item, perhaps the highest risk item, because the FDA can literally shut their doors and destroy them.  There is little they can do to control or affect the FDA situation, except to work with the FDA, meet deadlines and engender goodwill and a spirit of cooperation.  The risk of not doing that is exactly what happened.

It’s unknown at this time if 23andMe is really that corporately arrogant to think they could simply ignore the FDA, or blatantly corporately negligent or maybe simply corporately stupid, but they surely betrayed the trust and confidence of their customers by failing to meet their commitments with and to the FDA, or even communicate with them.  I mean, really, what were they thinking?

There has been an outpouring of sympathy for 23andme and negative backlash towards the FDA for their letter forcing 23andMe to stop selling their offending medical product, meaning the health portion of their testing.  However, in reality, the FDA was only meting out the consequences that 23andMe asked for.  My teenage kids knew this would happen.  If you do what you’re not supposed to….X, Y and Z will, or won’t, happen.  It’s called accountability.  Just ask my son about his prom….he remembers vividly.  Now why my kids, or 23andMe, would push an authority figure to that point, knowing full well the consequences, utterly mystifies me.  It did when my son was a teenager and it does with 23andMe as well.

Some people think that the FDA is trying to stand between consumers and their health information.  I don’t think so, at least not in this case.  Why I think that is because the FDA left the raw data files alone and they left the genetic genealogy aspect alone.  The FDA knows full well you can download your raw data and for $5 process it at a third party site, obtaining health related genetic information.  The difference is that Promethease is not interpreting any data for you, only providing information.

There is some good news in this and that is that from a genetic genealogy perspective, we seem to be safe, at least for now, from government interference with the testing that has been so productive for genetic genealogy.  The FDA had the perfect opportunity to squish us like a bug (thanks to the opening provided by 23andMe,) and they didn’t.

The really frustrating aspect of this is that 23andMe was a company who, with their deep pockets in Silicon Valley and other investors, could actually afford to wage a fight with the FDA, if need be.  The other companies who received the original 2010 FDA letter all went elsewhere and focused on something else.  But 23andMe didn’t, they decided to fight the fight, and we all supported their decision.  But they let us all down.  The fight they are fighting now is not the battle we anticipated, but one brought upon themselves by their own negligence.  This battle didn’t have to happen, and it may impair them financially to such a degree that if they need to fight the big fight, they won’t be able to.

Right now, 23andMe is selling their kits, but only as an ancestry product as they work through whatever process they are working through with the FDA.  Unfortunately, 23andMe is currently having some difficulties where the majority of matches are disappearing from some testers records.  In other cases, segments that previously matched are disappearing.  One would think, with their only revenue stream for now being the genetic genealogy marketspace that they would be wearing kid gloves and being extremely careful, but apparently not.  They might even consider making some of the changes and enhancements we’ve requested for so long that have fallen on deaf ears.

One thing is for sure, it will be extremely interesting to see where 23andMe is this time next year.  The soap opera continues.

I hope for the sake of all of the health consumers, both current and (potentially) future, that this dotcom fairy tale has a happy ending.

Also, see the Autosomal DNA Comes of Age section.









Supreme Court Decision – Genes Can’t Be Patented – Followed by Lawsuits

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court determined that genes cannot be patented.  Myriad Genetics held patents on two BRCA genes that predisposed people to cancer.  The cost for the tests through Myriad was about $3000.  Six hours after the Supreme Court decision, Gene By Gene announced that same test for $995.  Other firms followed suit, and all were subsequently sued by Myriad for patent infringement.  I was shocked by this, but as one of my lawyer friends clearly pointed out, you can sue anyone for anything.  Making it stick is yet another matter.  Many firms settle to avoid long and very expensive legal battles.  Clearly, this issue is not yet resolved, although one would think a Supreme Court decision would be pretty definitive.  It potentially won’t be settled for a long time.







Gene By Gene Steps Up, Ramps Up and Produces

As 23andMe comes unraveled and Ancestry languishes in its mediocrity, Gene by Gene, the parent company of Family Tree DNA has stepped up to the plate, committed to do “whatever it takes,” ramped up the staff both through hiring and acquisitions, and is producing results.  This is, indeed, a breath of fresh air for genetic genealogists, as well as a welcome relief.







Autosomal DNA Comes of Age

Autosomal DNA testing and analysis has simply exploded this past year.  More and more people are testing, in part, because Ancestry.com has a captive audience in their subscription data base and more than a quarter million of those subscribers have purchased autosomal DNA tests.  That’s a good thing, in general, but there are some negative aspects relative to Ancestry, which are in the Ancestry section.

Another boon to autosomal testing was the 23andMe push to obtain a million records.  Of course, the operative word here is “was” but that may revive when the FDA issue is resolved.  One of the down sides to the 23andMe data base, aside from the fact that it’s not genealogist friendly, is that so many people, about 90%, don’t communicate.  They aren’t interested in genealogy.

A third factor is that Family Tree DNA has provided transfer ability for files from both 23andMe and Ancestry into their data base.

Fourth is the site, GedMatch, at www.gedmatch.com which provides additional matching and admixture tools and the ability to match below thresholds set by the testing companies.  This is sometimes critically important, especially when comparing to known cousins who just don’t happen to match at the higher thresholds, for example.  Unfortunately, not enough people know about GedMatch, or are willing to download their files.  Also unfortunate is that GedMatch has struggled for the past few months to keep up with the demand placed on their site and resources.

A great deal of time this year has been spent by those of us in the education aspect of genetic genealogy, in whatever our capacity, teaching about how to utilize autosomal results. It’s not necessarily straightforward.  For example, I wrote a 9 part series titled “The Autosomal Me” which detailed how to utilize chromosome mapping for finding minority ethnic admixture, which was, in my case, both Native and African American.

As the year ends, we have Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry who offer the autosomal test which includes the relative-matching aspect.  Fortunately, we also have third party tools like www.GedMatch.com and www.DNAGedcom.com, without which we would be significantly hamstrung.  In the case of DNAGedcom, we would be unable to perform chromosome segment matching and triangulation with 23andMe data without Rob Warthen’s invaluable tool.













DNAGedcom – Indispensable Third Party Tool

While this tool, www.dnagedcom.com, falls into the Autosomal grouping, I have separated it out for individual mention because without this tool, the progress made this year in autosomal DNA ancestor and chromosomal mapping would have been impossible.  Family Tree DNA has always provided segment matching boundaries through their chromosome browser tool, but until recently, you could only download 5 matches at a time.  This is no longer the case, but for most of the year, Rob’s tool saved us massive amounts of time.

23andMe does not provide those chromosome boundaries, but utilizing Rob’s tool, you can obtain each of your matches in one download, and then you can obtain the list of who your matches match that is also on your match list by requesting each of those files separately.  Multiple steps?  Yes, but it’s the only way to obtain this information, and chromosome mapping without the segment data is impossible

A special hats off to Rob.  Please remember that Rob’s site is free, meaning it’s donation based.  So, please donate if you use the tool.


I covered www.Gedmatch.com in the “Best of 2012” list, but they have struggled this year, beginning when Ancestry announced that raw data file downloads were available.  GedMatch consists of two individuals, volunteers, who are still struggling to keep up with the required processing and the tools.  They too are donation based, so don’t forget about them if you utilize their tools.

Ancestry – How Great Thou Aren’t

Ancestry is only on this list because of what they haven’t done.  When they initially introduced their autosomal product, they didn’t have any search capability, they didn’t have a chromosome browser and they didn’t have raw data file download capability, all of which their competitors had upon first release.  All they did have was a list of your matches, with their trees listed, with shakey leaves if you shared a common ancestor on your tree.  The implication, was, and is, of course, that if you have a DNA match and a shakey leaf, that IS your link, your genetic link, to each other.  Unfortunately, that is NOT the case, as CeCe Moore documented in her blog from Rootstech (starting just below the pictures) as an illustration of WHY we so desperately need a chromosome browser tool.

In a nutshell, Ancestry showed the wrong shakey leaf as the DNA connection – as proven by the fact that both of CeCe’s parents have tested at Ancestry and the shakey leaf person doesn’t match the requisite parent.  And there wasn’t just one, not two, but three instances of this.  What this means is, of course, that the DNA match and the shakey leaf match are entirely independent of each other.  In fact, you could have several common ancestors, but the DNA at any particular location comes only from one on either Mom or Dad’s side – any maybe not even the shakey leaf person.

So what Ancestry customers are receiving is a list of people they match and possible links, but most of them have no idea that this is the case, and blissfully believe they have found their genetic connection.  They have found a genealogical cousin, and it MIGHT be the genetic connection.  But then again, they could have found that cousin simply by searching for the same ancestor in Ancestry’s data base.  No DNA needed.

Ancestry has added a search feature, allowed raw data file downloads (thank you) and they have updated their ethnicity predictions.  The ethnicity predictions are certainly different, dramatically different, but equally as unrealistic.  See the Ethnicity Makeovers section for more on this.  The search function helps, but what we really need is the chromosome browser, which they have steadfastly avoided promising.  Instead, they have said that they will give us “something better,” but nothing has materialized.

I want to take this opportunity, to say, as loudly as possible, that TRUST ME IS NOT ACCEPTABLE in any way, shape or form when it comes to genetic matching.  I’m not sure what Ancestry has in mind by the way of “better,” but it if it’s anything like the mediocrity with which their existing DNA products have been rolled out, neither I nor any other serious genetic genealogist will be interested, satisfied or placated.

Regardless, it’s been nearly 2 years now.  Ancestry has the funds to do development.  They are not a small company.  This is obviously not a priority because they don’t need to develop this feature.  Why is this?  Because they can continue to sell tests and to give shakey leaves to customers, most of whom don’t understand the subtle “untruth” inherent in that leaf match – so are quite blissfully happy.

In years past, I worked in the computer industry when IBM was the Big Dog against whom everyone else competed.  I’m reminded of an old joke.  The IBM sales rep got married, and on his wedding night, he sat on the edge of the bed all night long regaling his bride in glorious detail with stories about just how good it was going to be….

You can sign a petition asking Ancestry to provide a chromosome browser here, and you can submit your request directly to Ancestry as well, although to date, this has not been effective.

The most frustrating aspect of this situation is that Ancestry, with their plethora of trees, savvy marketing and captive audience testers really was positioned to “do it right,” and hasn’t, at least not yet.  They seem to be more interested in selling kits and providing shakey leaves that are misleading in terms of what they mean than providing true tools.  One wonders if they are afraid that their customers will be “less happy” when they discover the truth and not developing a chromosome browser is a way to keep their customers blissfully in the dark.








Ancient DNA

This has been a huge year for advances in sequencing ancient DNA, something once thought unachievable.  We have learned a great deal, and there are many more skeletal remains just begging to be sequenced.  One absolutely fascinating find is that all people not African (and some who are African through backmigration) carry Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.  Just this week, evidence of yet another archaic hominid line has been found in Neanderthal DNA and on Christmas Day, yet another article stating that type 2 Diabetes found in Native Americans has roots in their Neanderthal ancestors. Wow!

Closer to home, by several thousand years is the suggestion that haplogroup R did not exist in Europe after the ice age, and only later, replaced most of the population which, for males, appears to have been primarily haplogroup G.  It will be very interesting as the data bases of fully sequenced skeletons are built and compared.  The history of our ancestors is held in those precious bones.














Sloppy Science and Sensationalist Reporting

Unfortunately, as DNA becomes more mainstream, it becomes a target for both sloppy science or intentional misinterpretation, and possibly both.  Unfortunately, without academic publication, we can’t see results or have the sense of security that comes from the peer review process, so we don’t know if the science and conclusions stand up to muster.

The race to the buck in some instances is the catalyst for this. In other cases, and not in the links below, some people intentionally skew interpretations and results in order to either fulfill their own belief agenda or to sell “products and services” that invariably report specific findings.

It’s equally as unfortunate that much of these misconstrued and sensationalized results are coming from a testing company that goes by the names of BritainsDNA, ScotlandsDNA, IrelandsDNA and YorkshiresDNA. It certainly does nothing for their credibility in the eyes of people who are familiar with the topics at hand, but it does garner a lot of press and probably sells a lot of kits to the unwary.

I hope they publish their findings so we can remove the “sloppy science” aspect of this.  Sensationalist reporting, while irritating, can be dealt with if the science is sound.  However, until the results are published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, we have no way of knowing.

Thankfully, Debbie Kennett has been keeping her thumb on this situation, occurring primarily in the British Isles.









Citizen Science is Coming of Age

Citizen science has been slowing coming of age over the past few years.  By this, I mean when citizen scientists work as part of a team on a significant discovery or paper.  Bill Hurst comes to mind with his work with Dr. Doron Behar on his paper, A Copernican Reassessment of the Human Mitochondrial DNA from its Root or what know as the RSRS model.  As the years have progressed, more and more discoveries have been made or assisted by citizen scientists, sometimes through our projects and other times through individual research.  JOGG, the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, which is currently on hiatus waiting for Dr. Turi King, the new editor, to become available, was a great avenue for peer reviewed publication.  Recently, research projects have been set up by citizen scientists, sometimes crowd-funded, for specific areas of research.  This is a very new aspect to scientific research, and one not before utilized.

The first paper below includes the Family Tree DNA Lab, Thomas and Astrid Krahn, then with Family Tree DNA and Bonnie Schrack, genetic genealogist and citizen scientist, along with Dr. Michael Hammer from the University of Arizona and others.







Ethnicity Makeovers – Still Not Soup

Unfortunately, ethnicity percentages, as provided by the major testing companies still disappoint more than thrill, at least for those who have either tested at more than one lab or who pretty well know their ethnicity via an extensive pedigree chart.

Ancestry.com is by far the worse example, swinging like a pendulum from one extreme to the other.  But I have to hand it to them, their marketing is amazing.  When I signed in, about to discover that my results had literally almost reversed, I was greeted with the banner “a new you.”  Yea, a new me, based on Ancestry’s erroneous interpretation.  And by reversed, I’m serious.  I went from 80% British Isles to 6% and then from 0% Western Europe to 79%. So now, I have an old wrong one and a new wrong one – and indeed they are very different.  Of course, neither one is correct…..but those are just pesky details…

23andMe updated their ethnicity product this year as well, and fine tuned it yet another time.  My results at 23andMe are relatively accurate.  I saw very little change, but others saw more.  Some were pleased, some not.

The bottom line is that ethnicity tools are not well understood by consumers in terms of the timeframe that is being revealed, and it’s not consistent between vendors, nor are the results.  In some cases, they are flat out wrong, as with Ancestry, and can be proven.  This does not engender a great deal of confidence.  I only view these results as “interesting” or utilize them in very specific situations and then only using the individual admixture tools at www.Gedmatch.com on individual chromosome segments.

As Judy Russell says, “it’s not soup yet.”  That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting though, so long as you understand the difference between interesting and gospel.









Genetic Genealogy Education Goes Mainstream

With the explosion of genetic genealogy testing, as one might expect, the demand for education, and in particular, basic education has exploded as well.

I’ve written a 101 series, Kelly Wheaton wrote a series of lessons and CeCe Moore did as well.  Recently Family Tree DNA has also sponsored a series of free Webinars.  I know that at least one book is in process and very near publication, hopefully right after the first of the year.  We saw several conferences this year that provided a focus on Genetic Genealogy and I know several are planned for 2014.  Genetic genealogy is going mainstream!!!  Let’s hope that 2014 is equally as successful and that all these folks asking for training and education become avid genetic genealogists.













A Thank You in Closing

I want to close by taking a minute to thank the thousands of volunteers who make such a difference.  All of the project administrators at Family Tree DNA are volunteers, and according to their website, there are 7829 projects, all of which have at least one administrator, and many have multiple administrators.  In addition, everyone who answers questions on a list or board or on Facebook is a volunteer.  Many donate their time to coordinate events, groups, or moderate online facilities.  Many speak at events or for groups.  Many more write articles for publications from blogs to family newsletters.  Additionally, there are countless websites today that include DNA results…all created and run by volunteers, not the least of which is the ISOGG site with the invaluable ISOGG wiki.  Without our volunteer army, there would be no genetic genealogy community.  Thank you, one and all.

2013 has been a banner year, and 2014 holds a great deal of promise, even without any surprises.  And if there is one thing this industry is well known for….it’s surprises.  I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for us!!!  All I can say is hold on tight….

Native Americans, Neanderthal and Denisova Admixture

Denisova cave

Recently, a Neanderthal toe bone yielded enough DNA to sequence the full genome of the woman whose remains were found in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains, shown above.  This information was published in the Journal Nature in an article titled “The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains” by Prufer et al.  I wrote about what was found here, but it wasn’t until I really read the 200+ pages of supplemental information that I found additional buried information.

The article itself talks about some of the findings relative to Native Americans, but the supplemental information provides additional detail and the supporting charts.

In the paper, the Mixe and the Karitiana people of Mexico and Brazil, respectively were most often used to represent Native Americans.  There are about 90,000 Mixe language speakers alive today, so their population is not small.  However, the Karitiana are just the opposite, with only about 320 people in a very remote region of Brazil.  The Karitiana shun contact with outsiders.  In some parts of this study, additional population groups were used for additional Native samples.

Here’s what the article itself has to say about Neanderthals, Denisovans and Native Americans.

Denisovan gene flow in mainland Asia

We used the two high-coverage archaic genomes and a hidden Markov model (HMM) to identify regions of specifically Neanderthal and specifically Denisovan ancestry in 13 experimentally phased present-day human genomes (Supplementary Information sections 4 and 13). In the Sardinian and French genomes from Europe we find genomic regions of Neanderthal origin and few or no regions of Denisovan origin. In contrast, in the Han Chinese, the Dai in southern China, and the Karitiana and Mixe in the Americas, we find, in addition to regions of Neanderthal origin, regions that are consistent with being of Denisovan origin (Zscore54.3 excess relative to the Europeans) (Supplementary Information section 13), in agreement with previous analysis based on low-coverage archaic genomes. These regions are also more closely related to the Denisova genome than the few regions identified in Europeans (Supplementary Information section 13). We estimate that the Denisovan contribution to mainland Asian and Native American populations is ,0.2% and thus about 25 times smaller than the Denisovan contribution to populations in Papua New Guinea and Australia. The failure to detect any larger Denisovan contribution in the genome of a 40,000-year-old modern human from the Beijing area suggests that any Denisovan contribution to modern humans in mainland Asia was always quantitatively small. In fact, we cannot, at the moment, exclude that the Denisovan contribution to people across mainland Asia is owing to gene flow from ancestors of present-day people in Oceania after they mixed with Denisovans. We also note that in addition to this Denisovan contribution, the genomes of the populations in Asia and America appear to contain more regions of Neanderthal origin than populations in Europe (Supplementary Information sections 13 and 14).

The fascinating part of this, aside from the fact that Native people also carry both Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA, and that they carry more than Europeans, is that the Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA that they carry is different than that carried by Europeans.  In fact, it appears that not all Europeans carry Denisovan DNA and this paper lowers the estimated percentage of Neanderthal for all Europeans.

This difference in the Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA might be able to help solve a long-standing mystery, and that’s whether or not part of the Native population of the Eastern seaboard, and in particular, the far Northeast part of that region, was populated by or admixed with Europeans long before the time of Columbus and other European pre-colonial explorers.  This information, of course would have to come from pre-contact burials, but they do exist and with this new information in hand, they might just yield answers never before available.

Dr. Ricki Lewis, in her DNA Science Blog, mentioned something else quite interesting culled from a Christmas Day issue of Nature titled “Sequence variants in SLC16A11 are a common risk factor for type 2 diabetes in Mexico.”  In a nutshell, from article introduction, we find this commentary:

“The risk haplotype carries four amino acid substitutions, all in SLC16A11; it is present at ~50% frequency in Native American samples and ~10% in east Asian, but is rare in European and African samples. Analysis of an archaic genome sequence indicated that the risk haplotype introgressed into modern humans via admixture with Neanderthals.”

Ricki extrapolated on this further:

“Researchers determine the degree to which a mutant gene differs from the most common sequence (wild type), then impose a time scale in the form of  known mutation rates. The SLC16A11 five-site haplotype is so divergent that it goes back to nearly 800,000 years ago — before our ancestors expanded out of Africa.

The most plausible explanation, unexpected I suspect, seemed to be that the haplotype came from an archaic human – a Neanderthal or Denisovan or their as-yet unnamed contemporaries. And the haplotype indeed shows up in the skeleton of a Neanderthal found in the Denisovan cave in Siberia.”

And so, it seems that the Native American people today indeed inherited their propensity for type 2 diabetes from their ancient Neanderthal ancestors who lived in the Altai Mountains.  It also appears that this genetic predisposition did not carry forward to Europe, if indeed this group of Neanderthals was ancestral to Europeans at all.