Whole Genome Sequencing – Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Dante Labs is offering a whole genomes test for $199 this week as an early Black Friday special.

Please note that just as I was getting ready to push the publish button on this article, Veritas Genetics also jumped on the whole sequencing bandwagon for $199 for the first 1000 testers Nov. 19 and 20th. In this article, I discuss the Dante Labs test. I have NOT reviewed Veritas, their test nor terms, so the same cautions discussed below apply to them and any other company offering whole genome sequencing. The Veritas link is here.

Update – Veritas provides the VCF file for an additional $99, but does not provide FASTQ or BAM files, per their Tweet to me.

I have no affiliation with either company.

$199 (US) is actually a great price for a whole genome test, but before you click and purchase, there are some things you need to know about whole genome sequencing (WGS) and what it can and can’t do for you. Or maybe better stated, what you’ll have to do with your own results before you can utilize the information for genealogical purposes.

The four questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Why do you want to consider whole genome testing?
  • What question(s) are you trying to answer?
  • What information do you seek?
  • What is your testing goal?

I’m going to say this once now, and I’ll say it again at the end of the article.

Whole genome sequencing tests are NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR GENEALOGICAL DNA TESTS for mitochondrial, Y or autosomal testing. Whole genome sequencing is not a genealogy magic bullet.

There are both pros and cons of this type of purchase, as with most everything. Whole genome tests are for the most experienced and technically savvy genetic genealogists who understand both working with genetics and this field well, who have already taken the vendors’ genealogy tests and are already in the Y, mitochondrial and autosomal comparison data bases.

If that’s you or you’re interested in medical information, you might want to consider a whole genome test.

Let’s start with some basics.

What Is Whole Genome Sequencing?

Whole Genome Sequencing will sequence most of your genome. Keep in mind that humans are more than 99% identical, so the only portions that you’ll care about either medically or genealogically are the portions that differ or tend to mutate. Comparing regions where you match everyone else tells you exactly nothing at all.

Exome Sequencing – A Subset of Whole Genome

Exome sequencing, a subset of whole genome sequencing is utilized for medical testing. The Exome is the region identified as the portions most likely to mutate and that hold medically relevant information. You can read about the benefits and challenges of exome testing here.

I have had my Exome sequenced twice, once at Helix and once at Genos, now owned by NantOmics. Currently, NantOmics does not have a customer sign-in and has acquired my DNA sequence as part of the absorption of Genos. I’ll be writing about that separately. There is always some level of consumer risk in dealing with a startup.

I wrote about Helix here. Helix sequences your Exome (plus) so that you can order a variety of DNA based or personally themed products from their marketplace, although I’m not convinced about the utility of even the legitimacy of some of the available tests, such as the “Wine Explorer.”

On the other hand, the world-class The National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project now utilizes Helix for their testing, as does Spencer Well’s company, Insitome.

You can also pay to download your Exome sequence data separately for $499.

Autosomal Testing for Genealogy

Both whole genome and Exome testing are autosomal testing, meaning that they test chromosomes 1-22 (as opposed to Y and mitochondrial DNA) but the number of autosomal locations varies vastly between the various types of tests.

The locations selected by the genealogy testing companies are a subset of both the whole genome and the Exome. The different vendors that compare your DNA for genealogy generally utilize between 600,000 and 900,000 chip-specific locations that they have selected as being inclined to mutate – meaning that we can obtain genealogically relevant information from those mutations.

Some vendors (for example, 23andMe and Ancestry) also include some medical SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) on their chips, as both have formed medical research alliances with various companies.

Whole genome and Exome sequencing includes these same locations, BUT, the whole genome providers don’t compare the files to other testers nor reduce the files to the locations useful for genealogical comparisons. In other words, they don’t create upload files for you.

The following chart is not to scale, but is meant to convey the concept that the Exome is a subset of the whole genome, and the autosomal vendors’ selected SNPs, although not the same between the companies, are all subsets of the Exome and full genome.

I have not had my whole genome sequenced because I have seen no purpose for doing so, outside of curiosity.

This is NOT to imply that you shouldn’t. However, here are some things to think about.

Whole Genome Sequencing Questions

Coverage – Medical grade coverage is considered to be 30X, meaning an average of 30 scans of every targeted location in your genome. Some will have more and some will have less. This means that your DNA is scanned thirty different times to minimize errors. If a read error happens once or twice, it’s unlikely that the same error will happen several more times. You can read about coverage here and here.

Genomics Education Programme [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.

Here’s an example where the read length of Read 1 is 18, and the depth of the location shown in light blue is 4, meaning 4 actual reads were obtained. If the goal was 30X, then this result would be very poor. If the goal was 4X then this location is a high quality result for a 4X read.

In the above example, if the reference value, meaning the value at the light blue location for most people is T, then 4 instances of a T means you don’t have a mutation. On the other hand, if T is not the reference value, then 4 instances of T means that a mutation has occurred in that location.

Dante Labs coverage information is provided from their webpage as follows:

Other vendors coverage values will differ, but you should always know what you are purchasing.

Ownership – Who owns your data? What happens to your DNA itself (the sample) and results (the files) under normal circumstances and if the company is sold. Typically, the assets of the company, meaning your information, are included during any acquisition.

Does the company “share, lease or sell” your information as an additional revenue stream with other entities? If so, do they ask your permission each and every time? Do they perform internal medical research and then sell the results? What, if anything, is your DNA going to be used for other than the purpose for which you purchased the test? What control do you exercise over that usage?

Read the terms and conditions carefully for every vendor before purchasing.

File Delivery – Three types of files are generated during a whole genome test.

The VCF (Variant Call Format) which details your locations that are different from the reference file. A reference file is the “normal” value for humans.

A FASTQ file which includes the nucleotide sequence along with a corresponding quality score. Mutations in a messy area or that are not consistent may not be “real” and are considered false positives.

The BAM (Binary Alignment Map) file is used for Y DNA SNP alignment. The output from a BAM file is displayed in Family Tree DNA’s Big Y browser for their customers. Are these files delivered to you? If so, how? Family Tree DNA delivers their Big Y DNA BAM files as free downloads.

Typically whole genome data is too large for a download, so it is sent on a disc drive to you. Dante provides this disc for BAM and FASTQ files for 59 Euro ($69 US) plus shipping. VCF files are available free, but if you’re going to order this product, it would be a shame not to receive everything available.

Version – Discoveries are still being made to the human genome. If you thought we’re all done with that, we’re not. As new regions are mapped successfully, the addresses for the rest change, and a new genomic map is created. Think of this as street addresses and a new cluster of houses is now inserted between existing houses. All of the houses are periodically renumbered.

Today, typically results are delivered in either of two versions: hg19(GRVH37) or hg38(GRCH38). What happens when the next hg (human genome) version is released?

When you test with a vendor who uses your data for comparison as a part of a product they offer, they must realign your data so that the comparison will work for all of their customers (think Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, for example), but a vendor who only offers the testing service has no motivation to realign your output file for you. You only pay for sequencing, not for any after-the-fact services.

Platform – Multiple sequencing platforms are available, and not all platforms are entirely compatible with other competing platforms. For example, the Illumina platform and chips may or may not be compatible with the Affymetrix platform (now Thermo Fisher) and chips. Ask about chip compatibility if you have a specific usage in mind before you purchase.

Location – Where is your DNA actually being sequenced? Are you comfortable having your DNA sent to that geographic location for processing? I’m personally fine with anyplace in either the US, Canada or most of Europe, but other locations maybe not so much. I’d have to evaluate the privacy policies, applicable laws, non-citizen recourse and track record of those countries.

Last but perhaps most important, what do you want to DO with this file/information?

Utilization

What you receive from whole genome sequencing is files. What are you going to do with those files? How can you use them? What is your purpose or goal? How technically skilled are you, and how well do you understand what needs to be done to utilize those files?

A Specific Medical Question

If you have a particular question about a specific medical location, Dante allows you to ask the question as soon as you purchase, but you must know what question to ask as they note below.

You can click on their link to view their report on genetic diseases, but keep in mind, this is the disease you specifically ask about. You will very likely NOT be able to interpret this report without a genetic counselor or physician specializing in this field.

Take a look at both sample reports, here.

Health and Wellness in General

The Dante Labs Health and Wellness Report appears to be a collaborative effort with Sequencing.com and also appears to be included in the purchase price.

I uploaded both my Exome and my autosomal DNA results from the various testing companies (23andMe V3 and V4, Ancestry V1 and V2, Family Tree DNA, LivingDNA, DNA.Land) to Promethease for evaluation and there was very little difference between the health-related information returned based on my Exome data and the autosomal testing vendors. The difference is, of course, that the Exome coverage is much deeper (and therefore more reliable) because that test is a medical test, not a consumer genealogy test and more locations are covered. Whole genome testing would be more complete.

I wrote about Promethease here and here. Promethease does accept VCF files from various vendors who provide whole genome testing.

None of these tests are designed or meant for medical interpretation by non-professionals.

Medical Testing

If you plan to test with the idea that should your physician need a genetics test, you’re already ahead of the curve, don’t be so sure. It’s likely that your physician will want a genetics test using the latest technology, from their own lab, where they understand the quality measures in place as well as how the data is presented to them. They are unlikely to accept a test from any other source. I know, because I’ve already had this experience.

Genealogical Comparisons

The power of DNA testing for genealogy is comparing your data to others. Testing in isolation is not useful.

Mitochondrial DNA – I can’t tell for sure based on the sample reports, but it appears that you receive your full sequence haplogroup and probably your mutations as well from Dante. They don’t say which version of mitochondrial DNA they utilize.

However, without the ability to compare to other testers in a database, what genealogical benefit can you derive from this information?

Furthermore, mitochondrial DNA also has “versions,” and converting from an older to a newer version is anything but trivial. Haplogroups are renamed and branches sawed from one part of the mitochondrial haplotree and grafted onto another. A testing (only) vendor that does not provide comparisons has absolutely no reason to update your results and can’t be expected to do so. V17 is the current build, released in February 2016, with the earlier version history here.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor who tests your full sequence mitochondrial DNA, compares it to other testers and updates your results when a new version is released. You can read more about this process, here and how to work with mtDNA results here.

Y DNA – Dante Labs provides BAM files, but other whole genome sequencers may not. Check before you purchase if you are interested in Y DNA. Again, you’ll need to be able to analyze the results and submit them for comparison. If you are not capable of doing that, you’ll need to pay a third party like either YFull or FGS (Full Genome Sequencing) or take the Big Y test at Family Tree DNA who has the largest Y Database worldwide and compares results.

Typically whole genome testers are looking for Y DNA SNPs, not STR values in BAM files. STR (short tandem repeat) values are the results that you receive when you purchase the 37, 67 or 111 tests at Family Tree DNA, as compared to the Big Y test which provides you with SNPs in order to resolve your haplogroup at the most granular level possible. You can read about the difference between SNPs and STRs here.

As with SNP data, you’ll need outside assistance to extract your STR information from the whole genome sequence information, none of which will be able to be compared with the testers in the Family Tree DNA data base. There is also an issue of copy-count standardization between vendors.

You can read about how to work with STR results and matches here and Big Y results here.

Autosomal DNA – None of the major providers that accept transfers (MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, GedMatch) accept whole genome files. You would need to find a methodology of reducing the files from the whole genome to the autosomal SNPs accepted by the various vendors. If the vendors adopt the digital signature technology recently proposed in this paper by Yaniv Erlich et al to prevent “spoofed files,” modified files won’t be accepted by vendors.

Summary

Whole genome testing, in general, will and won’t provide you with the following:

Desired Feature Whole Genome Testing
Mitochondrial DNA Presumed full haplogroup and mutations provided, but no ability for comparison to other testers. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the only vendor doing comparisons not available.
Y DNA Presume Y chromosome mostly covered, but limited ability for comparison to other testers for either SNPs or STRs. Must utilize either YFull or FGS for SNP/STR analysis. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the vendor with the largest data base not available when testing elsewhere.
Autosomal DNA for genealogy Presume all SNPs covered, but file output needs to be reduced to SNPs offered/processed by vendors accepting transfers (Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch) and converted to their file formats. Modified files may not be accepted in the future.
Medical (consumer interest) Accuracy is a factor of targeted coverage rate and depth of actual reads. Whole genome vendors may or may not provide any analysis or reports. Dante does but for limited number of conditions. Promethease accepts VCF files from vendors and provides more.
Medical (physician accepted) Physician is likely to order a medical genetics test through their own institution. Physicians may not be willing to risk a misdiagnosis due to a factor outside of their control such as an incompatible human genome version.
Files VCF, FASTQ and BAM may or may not be included with results, and may or may not be free.
Coverage Coverage and depth may or may not be adequate. Multiple extractions (from multiple samples) may or may not be included with the initial purchase (if needed) or may be limited. Ask.
Updates Vendors who offer sequencing as a part of a products that include comparison to other testers will update your results version to the current reference version, such as hg38 and mitochondrial V17. Others do not, nor can they be expected to provide that service.
Version Inquire as to the human genome (hg) version or versions available to you, and which version(s) are acceptable to the third party vendors you wish to utilize. When the next version of the human genome is released, your file will no longer be compatible because WGS vendors are offering sequencing only, not results comparisons to databases for genealogy.
Ownership/Usage Who owns your sample? What will it be utilized for, other than the service you ordered, by whom and for what purposes? Will you we able to authorize or decline each usage?
Location Where geographically is your DNA actually being sequenced and stored? What happens to your actual DNA sample itself and the resulting files? This may not be the location where you return your swab kit.

The Question – Will I Order?

The bottom line is that if you are a genealogist, seeking genetic information for genealogical purposes, you’re much better off to test with the standard and well know genealogy vendors who offer compatibility and comparisons to other testers.

If you are a pioneer in this field, have the technical ability required to make use of a whole genome test and are willing to push the envelope, then perhaps whole genome sequencing is for you.

I am considering ordering the Dante Labs whole genome test out of simple curiosity and to upload to Promethease to determine if the whole genome test provides me with something potentially medically relevant (positive or negative) that autosomal and Exome testing did not.

I’m truly undecided. Somehow, I’m having trouble parting with the $199 plus $69 (hard drive delivery by request when ordering) plus shipping for this limited functionality. If I was a novice genetic genealogist or was not a technology expert, I would definitely NOT order this test for the reasons mentioned above.

A whole genome test is not in any way a genealogical replacement for a full sequence mitochondrial test, a Y STR test, a Y SNP test or an autosomal test along with respective comparison(s) in the data bases of vendors who don’t allow uploads for these various functions.

The simple fact that 30X whole genome testing is available for $199 plus $69 plus shipping is amazing, given that 15 years ago that same test cost 2.7 billion dollars. However, it’s still not the magic bullet for genealogy – at least, not yet.

Today, the necessary integration simply doesn’t exist. You pay the genealogy vendors not just for the basic sequencing, but for the additional matching and maintenance of their data bases, not to mention the upgrading of your sequence as needed over time.

If I had to choose between spending the money for the WGS test or taking the genealogy tests, hands down, I’d take the genealogy tests because of the comparisons available. Comparison and collaboration is absolutely crucial for genealogy. A raw data file buys me nothing genealogically.

If I had not previously taken an Exome test, I would order this test in order to obtain the free Dante Health and Wellness Report which provides limited reporting and to upload my raw data file to Promethease. The price is certainly right.

However, keep in mind that once you view health information, you cannot un-see it, so be sure you do really want to know.

What do you plan to do? Are you going to order a whole genome test?

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

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GDPR – It’s a Train and It’s a Comin’

In the recent article about Oxford Ancestors shuttering, I briefly mentioned GDPR. I’d like to talk a little more about this today, because you’re going to hear about it, and I’d rather you hear about it from me than from a sky-is-falling perspective.

It might be rainy and there is definitely some thunder and the ground may shake a little, but the sky is not exactly falling. The storm probably isn’t going to be pleasant, however, but we’ll get through it because we have no other choice. And there is life after GDPR, although in the genetic genealogy space, it may look a little different.

And yes, one way or another, it will affect you.

What is GDPR?

GDPR, which is short for General Data Protection Regulation, is a European, meaning both EU and UK, regulation(s) by which the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission intend to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU/UK and processing of data of residents of the EU/UK by non-EU/UK companies.

There are actually two similar, but somewhat different regulations, one for the UK and one for the EU’s 28 member states, but the regulations are collectively referred to as the GDPR regulation.

Ok, so far so good.

The regulations are directly enforceable and do not require any individual member government to pass additional legislation.

GDPR was adopted on April 27, 2016, but little notice was taken until the last few months, especially outside of Europe, when the hefty fines drew attention to the enforcement date of May 25, 2018, now just around the corner.

Those hefty fines can range from a written warning for non-intentional noncompliance to a fine of 20 million Euro or up to 4% of the annual worldwide turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is GREATER. Yea, that’s pretty jaw-dropping.

So, GDPR has teeth and is nothing to be ignored.

Oh, and if you think this is just for EU or UK companies, it isn’t. It applies equally to any company that possesses any data of any EU or UK resident in their data base or files, providing that person isn’t dead. The law excludes dead people and makes some exceptions for law enforcement and other national security types of applications.

Otherwise, it applies to everyone in a global economy – and not just for future sales, but to already existing data for anyone who stores, transmits, sells to or processes data of any EU resident.

What Does GDPR Do?

The intent of GDPR was to strengthen privacy and data protections, but there is little latitude written into this regulation that allows for intentional sharing of data. The presumption throughout the hundreds of pages of lawyer-speak is that data is not intended to be shared, thereby requiring companies to take extraordinary measures to encrypt and anonymize data, even going so far as to force companies to store e-mail addresses separately from any data which could identify the person. Yes, like a name, or address.

Ironic that a regulation that requires vendor language be written in plainly understood simple wording is in and of itself incredibly complex, mandating legal interpretation.

Needless to say, GDPR requirements are playing havoc with every company’s data bases and file structure, because information technology goals have been to simplify and unify, not chop apart and distribute information, requiring a complex network of calls between systems.

Know who loves GDPR? Lawyers and consultants, that’s who!

In the case of intentional sharing, such as genetic genealogy, these regulations are already having unintended consequences through their extremely rigid requirements.

For example, a company must appoint a legal representative in Europe. I am not a lawyer, but my reading of this requirement suggests that European appointed individual (read, lawyer) is absorbing some level of risk and could potentially be fined as a result of their non-European client’s behavior. So tell me, who is going to incur that level of risk for anything approaching a reasonable cost?

One of the concepts implemented in GDPR is the colloquially known “right to be forgotten.” That means that you can request that your data and files be deleted, and the company must comply within a reasonable time.

However, what does “the right to be forgotten” mean, exactly? Does it mean a company has to delete your public presence? What about their internal files that record that you WERE a customer. What about things like medical records? What about computer backups which are standard operating procedure for any responsible company? What happens when a backup needs to be restored? If the company tracks who was deleted, so they can re-delete them if they have to restore from backup, then the person isn’t deleted in the first place and they are still being tracked – even though the tracking is occurring so the person can be re-forgotten.

Did you follow that? Did it make sense? Did anyone think of these kinds of things?

Oh, and by the way, there is no case law yet, so every single European company and every single non-European company that has any customer base in Europe is scrambling to comply with an incredibly far-reaching and harsh regulation with extremely severe potential consequences.

How many companies do you think can absorb this expenditure? Who do you think will ultimately pay?

Younger people may not remember Y2K, but I assuredly do, and GDPR is Y2K on steroids and with lots of ugly teeth in the form of fines and penalties that Y2K never had. The worse scenario for Y2K was that things would stop working. GDPR can put you out of business in the blink of an eye.

Categories of “Processors”

GDPR defines multiple levels of “processors,” a primary controller and a secondary processor plus vaguely defined categories of “third party” and “joint controller.”

The “controller” is pretty well defined as the company that receives and processes the data or order, and a “processor” is any other entity, including an individual person, who further processes data on behalf of or as a result of the controller.

There appears to be no differentiation between a multi-million-dollar company and one person doing something as a volunteer at home for most requirements – and GDPR specifically says that lack of pay does not exempt someone from GDPR. The one possible exception that exists in that there is an exclusion for organizations employing less than 250 persons, ”unless processing is likely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of the data subject.” I’m thinking that just mentioning the word DNA is enough to eliminate this exemption.

Furthermore, GDPR states that controllers and processors must register.

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself if this means you if you’re managing multiple DNA kits, working with genetic genealogy, either as a volunteer or professionally, or even managing a group project or Facebook group.

The answer to those questions is that but we really don’t know.

ISOGG has prepared a summary page addressing GDPR from the genetic genealogy perspective, here. The ISOGG working group has done an excellent job in summarizing the questions, requirements and potential effects of the legislation in the slide presentation, which I suggest you take the time to view.

This legislation clearly wasn’t written considering this type of industry, meaning DNA shared for genealogical purposes, and there has been no case law yet surrounding GDPR. No one wants to be the first person to discover exactly how this will be interpreted by the courts.

The requirements for controllers and processors are much the same and include very specific requirements for how data can be stored and what must be done in terms of the “right to be forgotten” requests within a reasonable time, generally mentioned as 30 days after the person who owns the data requests to be forgotten. This would clearly apply to some websites and other types of resources used and maintained by the genetic genealogy community. If you are one of the people this could affect, meaning you maintain a website displaying results of some nature, you might want to consider these requirements and how you will comply. Additionally, you are required to have explicitly given consent for every person’s results that are displayed.

For genetic genealogists, who regularly share information through various means, and the companies who enable this technology, GDPR is having what I would very generously call a wet blanket effect.

What’s Happening in the Genetic Genealogy Space?

So far, we’ve seen the following:

  • Oxford Ancestors has announced they are shuttering, although they did not say that their decision has anything to do with GDPR. The timing may be entirely coincidental.
  • Full Genomes Corporation has announced on social media that they are no longer accepting orders from EU or UK customers, stating that “the regulatory cost is too high for a small company” and is “excessive.” I would certainly agree with that. Update; On 3-31-2018 Justin Loe, CEO of Full Genomes says that they “will continue to sell into the EU via manual process.”
  • Ancestry has recently made unpopular decisions relative to requiring separate e-mails to register different accounts, even if the same person is managing multiple DNA kits. Ancestry did not say this had to do with GDPR either, but in reading the GDPR requirements, I can understand why Ancestry felt compelled to make this change.
  • Family Tree DNA recently removed a search feature from their primary business page that allowed the public to search for their ancestors in trees posted to accounts at Family Tree DNA. According to an e-mail sent to project administrators, this change was the result of changes required by GDPR. They too are working on compliance.
  • MyHeritage is as well.
  • I haven’t had an opportunity to speak privately with LivingDNA or 23andMe, but I would presume both are working on compliance. LivingDNA is a UK company.

One of my goals recently when visiting RootsTech was to ask vendors about their GDPR compliance and concerns. That’s the one topic sure to wipe the smile off of everyone’s face, immediately, generally followed by grimaces, groans and eye-rolls until they managed to put their “public face” back on.

In general, vendors said they were moving towards compliance but that it was expensive, difficult and painful – especially given the ambiguity in some of the regulation verbiage. Some expressed concerns that GDPR was only a first step and would be followed by even more painful future regulations. I would presume that any vendor who is not planning to become compliant would not have spent the money to have a booth at RootsTech.

The best news about GDPR is that it requires transparency – in other words, it’s supposed to protect customers from a company selling your anonymized DNA out the back door without your explicitly given consent, for example. However, the general consensus was that any company that wanted to behave in an unethical manner would find a loophole to do so, regardless of GDPR.

In fairness, hurried consumers bring this type of thing on themselves by clicking through the “consent,” or “agree” boxes without reading what they are consenting to. All the GDPR in the world won’t help this. The company may have to disclose, but the consumer doesn’t have to read, although GDPR does attempt to help by forcing you to actively click on agree.

I’m sure we’ll all be hearing more about GDPR in the next few weeks as the deadline looms ever closer.

May 25, 2018

Now you know!

There’s nothing you can do about the effects of GDPR, except hold on tight as the vendors on which we depend do their best to navigate this maze.

Between now and May 25th, and probably for some time thereafter, I promise to be patient and not to complain about glitches in vendors’ systems as they roll out new code as seamlessly as possible.

Gluttons for Punishment

For those of you who are really gluttons for punishment, here are the actual links to the documents themselves. Of course, they are also guaranteed to put you to sleep in about 27 second flat…so a sure cure for insomnia.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Big Y Price Reduction and New Matching Feature

It has been a busy week in the world of the Y chromosome.  Today, Family Tree DNA announced a new feature for their Big Y matching product, as well as a permanent price reduction to $595.

Their new feature makes it easier to determine how far up or down the haplotree your matches reside.  This used to be intuitive, based on the old-style haplogroup names like R1b1a2, when compared against R1b, for example – which was obviously three branches upstream.  Now that R1b1a2 is known as R-M269 and R1b is known as R-M343, there is nothing intuitive about this – which is why Family Tree DNA introduced this helpful tool.

ftdna 7-28 announce

You can see how  Big Y matching works at this link.

There are two parts of the Big Y test, the results themselves, of course, and matching to others.  The power in all of DNA testing is in who you match, and how, and the Big Y is a research tool to more fully define the Y tree, and your family branches too.  Of course, to do that, you’ll need members of those branches to test.

Competition seems to be a good thing.  Earlier this week, Full Genomes Corporation (FGC) introduced a competing product in the same financial space as the Big Y.  Debbie Kennett reported on their new Y Prime offering which is priced at an introductory special of $599.  One of the benefits of the Y Prime over FGC’s previous Y Elite test, aside from price, is the fact that the DNA is no longer being sent to China, but is being tested here in the US.  Of course, Family Tree DNA tests have always been processed in the US and are currently performed in their Gene by Gene lab in Houston, TX.

There are other differences between Family Tree DNA’s Big Y and FGC’s Y Prime, aside from the increased coverage that Debbie reported in her blog.  One difference is that your results from FGC are not online.  There is no matching either, with any other customers.  You receive your FGC report personally, via e-mail, as a file, and you cannot integrate the results with the people who are testing at, and matching at, Family Tree DNA.  In fact, Family Tree DNA is the only DNA testing company providing Y testing, online results, matching, projects and integration.

Competition seems to be a good thing for the consumer, though, because Family Tree DNA has reduced their Big Y price to just under the FGC price, by $4.  So, in essence, it’s no longer a financial decision.

I’ve been wanting to test several of the men in my Estes surname project, and we’re almost to the price point where I can do so.  Regardless of the increased coverage at FGC, I will be testing through Family Tree DNA.  I feel that the online results, matching capability, the surname and haplogroup projects, and having the ability to maintain the STR marker matches and the SNP matches in the same data base provides a service that is unequaled.  From my perspective, DNA testing without matching and analysis tools would be pretty much pointless.

Mitochondrial DNA Results from the Big Y Test

Say what? Mitochondrial results from a Y DNA test? You must be kidding? It’s April Fool’s Day, right???

“Not funny,” you say…

Keep reading:)

Felix’s Thought Logs, by Felix Chandrakumar, a software engineer from Australia, ran a nice article about the deliverable report from a company called YFull that does an analysis of the output of the fully sequenced Y chromosome files from either Family Tree DNA (Big Y) or Full Genomes (Full Y). I did find this report very interesting, but having said this, I would NOT go so far as to recommend this service. It’s free, and I know that’s enticing, but there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

YFull lists no terms of service. What are they doing with the DNA results, other than analyzing them for you? Are they also processing or retaining them in some other manner, for something else? There has to be a benefit of some sort to YFull, and they don’t tell us what that is. You can read more about YFull here. The YFull service is located in Moscow, Russia.

Until I fully understand what is being done with the files and results, I certainly will never recommend anyone send files to an unknown foreign entity under uncertain circumstances. Furthermore, Russia is outside the legal reach of people in the US if a dispute arises. There is no available recourse. Looking at the owners, and the websites they are involved with, are the DNA results being incorporated into those sites? Again, without terms of service and full disclosure, as consumers, we have no way of knowing.

Now that we have that housekeeping out of the way, let’s take a look at a very unusual report.

When reviewing Felix’s YFull results, I was very surprised to notice one screen in particular – his mitochondrial DNA.

Felix mito

This, of course, begs the question of how, on a Y chromosome test, can one obtain mitochondrial DNA results? To the best of my knowledge, there is no mitochondria on the Y chromosome.

mito y nucleus

In fact, the mitochondrial isn’t even in the cell nucleus with the X and Y chromosomes – it’s outside. So, how can the Y test be returning mitochondrial results?

I turned to Dr. David Mittelman, PhD, geneticist and Chief Scientific Officer for Gene by Gene, parent company of Family Tree DNA for answers.

Dr. Mittelman has been gracious enough to provide insights into how this happens.  See, no April Fools joke afterall!

Q. Dr. Mittelman, can you please confirm that the mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome are completely separate entities?

A. The mtDNA and Y chromosome are still separate entities 🙂

Q. Then how are mitochondrial DNA results being returned in conjunction with the Big Y test?

A. When you perform capture sequencing, you enrich for specific targets (in this case, the Y chromosome) but enrichment means you also get trace amounts of other sequences in the genome.

Q. Are these mitochondrial results high quality? Does the Big Y test cover all 16,569 mitochondrial DNA locations, like the full mitochondrial sequence test?

A.These mitochondrial results do not represent a high quality, high coverage sequence; and it does not give you the full mtDNA sequence — however in many cases you get enough markers to assign a haplogroup. You would probably prefer the complete sequence, however, if you want to use mtDNA for genealogical matching. Furthermore, since these are incidental findings, they are not reported on your mitochondrial page at Family Tree DNA, so no matching is possible. Only the specific mitochondrial tests designed for complete mitochondrial DNA coverage are reported on your personal page as results.

Q. If there are mitochondrial insertions, deletions or heteroplasmies, will the Big Y test be able to “see” those?

A. Yes but again the biggest limitation is coverage. At lower coverage and with fewer high quality reads, it is harder to resolve heteroplasmies and even some insertions and deletions. The BigY does not contain enough information to fully characterize all your variants in your mtDNA sequence, which is why we do not advertise it as such. It is exciting, however, to see that others are trying to extract value from the data. That is a key reason we make the raw data available. We are eager to see what complementary tools and insights other folks come up with.

Q. So, from what you’re saying, it sounds like the Big Y sequencing process may return an indeterminate amount of mitochondrial information, but it should not be relied upon as there is no guarantee that it is accurate or complete. In other words, they are simply incidental findings that are included coincidentally. Haplogroups predicted from this information may be incorrect or incomplete based on the quality or lack thereof of the incidental mtDNA data.

A. Certainly we did not design BigY to return your mtDNA sequence and I have not personally reviewed the accuracy of YFull, but it is possible for some customers to get some bonus mtDNA data. I think to gain more clarity it would be valuable to compare mtDNA data from the BigY to high quality, full mtDNA sequence from the same customers. Comparing that data would tell us more about the accuracy and value.

Following up on Dr. Mittelman’s suggestion, I checked with Felix about the accuracy of his mitochondrial results.

Felix has had his full mitochondrial sequence tested at Family Tree DNA. He reported that the YFull report found all of his 31 mutations, except for one in the coding region, and that another mutation, 315.1 was reported as 310. His haplogroup is accurate, but if some of the mutations missed were haplogroup defining mutations, it certainly could be, and probably would be estimated incorrectly. Not at all bad though, for an incidental freebie!

I want to thank Felix for being gracious enough to allow me to use his mtDNA results and Dr. Mittelman for his insights.

 

STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities

One of the questions I receive rather regularly is about the difference between STRs and SNPs.

Generally, what people really want to understand is the difference between the products, and a basic answer is really all they want.  I explain that an STR or Short Tandem Repeat is a different kind of a mutation than a SNP or a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism.  STRs are useful genealogically, to determine to whom you match within a recent timeframe, of say, the past 500 years or so, and SNPs define haplogroups which reach much further back in time.  Furthermore SNPs are considered “once in a lifetime,” or maybe better stated, “once in the lifetime of mankind” type of events, known as a UEP, Unique Event Polymorphism, where STRs happen “all the time,” in every haplogroup.  In fact, this is why you can check for the same STR markers in every haplogroup – those markers we all know and love.

STR

This was a pretty good explanation for a long time but as sequencing technology has improved and new tests have become available, such as the Full Y and Big Y tests, new mutations are being very rapidly discovered which blurs the line between the timeframes that had been used to separate these types of tests.  In fact, now they are overlapping in time, so SNPs are, in some cases becoming genealogically useful.  This also means that these newly discovered family SNPs are relatively new, meaning they only occurred between the current generation and 1000 years ago, so we should not expect to find huge numbers of these newly developed mutations in the population.  For example, if the SNP that defined haplogroup R1b1a2, M269, occurred 15,000 years ago in one man, his descendants have had 15,000 years to procreate and pass his M269 on down the line(s), something they have done very successfully since about half of Europe is either M269 or a subclade.

Each subclade has a SNP all its own.  In fact, each subclade is defined by a specific SNP that forms its own branch of the human Y haplotree.

So far, so good.

But what does a SNP or an STR really look like, I mean, in the raw data?  How do you know that you’re seeing one or the other?

Like Baseball – 4 Bases

The smallest units of DNA are made up of 4 base nucleotides, DNA words, that are represented by the following letters:

A = Adenine
C = Cytosine
G = Guanine
T = Thymine

TACG

These nucleotides combine in pairs to form the ladder rungs of DNA, shown right that connect the helix backbones.  T typically combines with A and C usually combines with G, reaching between the backbones of the double helix to connect with their companion protein in the center.

You don’t need to remember the words or even the letters, just remember that we are looking for pattern matches of segments of DNA.

Point Mutations

Your DNA when represented on paper looks like a string of beads where there are 4 kinds of beads, each representing one of the nucleotides above.  One segment of your DNA might look like this:

Indel example 1

If this is what the standard or reference sequence for your haplotype (your personal DNA results) or your family haplogroup (ancestral clan) looks like, then a mutation would be defined as any change, addition, or deletion.  A change would be if the first A above were to change to T or G or C as in the example below:

Indel example 2

A deletion would be noticed if the leading A were simply gone.

Indel example 3

An addition of course would be if a new bead were inserted in the sequence at that location.

Indel example 4

All of the above changes involve only one location.  These are all known as Point Mutations, because they occur at one single point.

SNPs

A point mutation may or may not be a SNP.  A SNP is defined by geneticists as a point mutation that is found in more than 1% of the population.  This should tell you right away that when we say “we’ve discovered a new SNP,” we’re really mis-applying that term, because until we determine that the frequency which it is found in the population is over the 1% threshold, it really isn’t a SNP, but is still considered a point mutation or binary polymorphism.

Today, when SNPS, or point mutations are discovered, they are considered “private mutations” or “family mutations.”  There has been consternation for some time about how to handle these types of situations.  ISOGG has set forth their criteria on their website.  They currently have the most comprehensive tree, but they certainly have their work cut out for them with the incoming tsunami of new SNPS that will be discovered utilizing these next generation tests, hundreds of which are currently in process.

STRs

A STR, or Short Tandem Repeat is analogous to a genetic stutter, or the copy machine getting stuck.  In the same situation as above, utilizing the same base for comparison, we see a group of inserted nucleotides that are all duplicates of each other.

STR example

In this case, we have a short tandem repeat that is 4 segments in length meaning that CT is inserted 4 times.  To translate, if this is marker DYS marker 390, you have a value of 5, meaning 5 repeats of CT.

So I’ve been fat and happy with this now for years, well over a decade.

The Monkey Wrench

And then I saw this:

“The L69/L159 polymorphism is essentially a SNP/STR oxymoron.”

To the best of my knowledge, this is impossible – one type of mutation excludes the other.  I googled about this topic and found nothing, nor did I find additional discussion of L69, other than this.

L69 verbiage

My first reaction to this was “that’s impossible,” followed by “Bloody Hell,” and my next reaction was to find someone who knew.

I reached out to Dr. David Mittelman, geneticist and Chief Scientific Officer at Gene by Gene, parent company of Family Tree DNA.  I asked him about the SNP/STR oxymoron and he said:

“This is impossible. There is no such thing as a SNP/STR.”

Whew!  I must say, I’m relieved.  I thought there for a minute there I had lost my mind.

I asked him what is really going on in this sequence, and he replied that, “This would be a complex variant — when multiple things are happening at once.”

Now, that I understand.  I have children, and grandchildren – I fully understand multiple things happening at once.  Let’s break this example apart and take a look at what is really happening.

HUGO is a reference standard, so let’s start there as our basis for comparison.

HUGO variant 1

In the L69 variant we have the following sequence.

HUGO variant 2

We see two distinct things happening in this sequence.  First, we have the deletion of two Gs, and secondly, we have the insertion of one additional TG.  According to Dr. Mittelman, both of these events are STRs, multiple insertions or deletions, and neither are point mutations or SNPs, so neither of these should really have SNP names, they should have STR type of names.

Let’s look at the L159 variant.

HUGO variant 3

In this case, we have the GG insertion and then we have a TG deletion.

In both cases, L69 and L159, the actual length of the DNA sequence remains the same as the reference, but the contents are different.  Both had 2 nucleotides removed and 2 added.

The good news is, as a consumer, that you don’t really need to know this, not at this level.  The even better news is that with the new discoveries forthcoming, whether they be STRs or SNPs, at the leafy end of the branch, they are often now overlapping with SNPs becoming much more genealogically useful.  In the past, if you were looking at a genetics mutation timeline, you had STRs that covered current to 1000 years, then nothing, then beginning at 5,000 or 10,000 years, you have SNPs that were haplogroup defining.

That gap has been steadily shrinking, and today, there often is no gap, the chasm is gone, and we’re discovering freshly hatched recently-occurring SNPs on a daily basis.

The day is fast approaching when you’ll want the full Y sequence, not to further define your haplogroup, but to further delineate your genealogy lines.  You’ll have two tools to do that, SNPs and STRs both, not just one.

I want to thank Dr. Mittelman for his generous assistance with this article.

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/03/31/new-y-dna-haplogroup-naming-convention/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/10/family-tree-dna-announces-the-big-y/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/16/what-about-the-big-y/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/11/first-look-at-full-genomes-y-sequencing.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-first-look-at-britainsdna-chromo-2-y.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/yseqnet-new-company-offering-single-snp.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-y-chromosome-sequence.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-confusion-of-snps.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-simplified-y-tree-and-common-standard.html

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/05/23andme-patents-technology-for-designer-babies/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/10/07/a-new-patent-for-23andme-creates-controversy/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/13/genomics-law-review-discusses-designing-children/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/11/andy-page-fills-new-president-position-at-23andme/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/25/fda-orders-23andme-to-discontinue-testing/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/26/now-what-23andme-and-the-fda/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/06/23andme-suspends-health-related-genetic-tests/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/11/26/fooling-with-fda/

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/06/13/supreme-court-decision-genes-cant-be-patented/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/06/14/our-dna-cant-be-patented/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/09/07/message-from-bennett-greenspan-free-my-genes/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/13/new-press-release-from-dnatraits-regarding-the-supreme-courts-holding-in-myriad/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/08/18/testing-firms-land-counterpunch/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/07/11/myriad-sues-genetic-testing-firms/

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/08/07/gene-by-gene-acquires-arpeggi/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/05/family-tree-dna-listens-and-acts/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/10/family-tree-dnas-family-finder-match-matrix-released/

http://www.haplogroup.org/ftdna-family-finder-matches-get-new-look/

http://www.haplogroup.org/ftdna-family-finder-new-look-2/

http://www.haplogroup.org/ftdna-family-finder-matches-new-look-3/

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/07/13/combining-tools-autosomal-plus-y-dna-mtdna-and-the-x-chromosome/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/07/26/family-tree-dna-levels-the-playing-field-sort-of/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/08/03/kitty-coopers-chromsome-mapping-tool-released/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/09/29/why-dont-i-match-my-cousin/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/03/family-tree-dna-updates-family-finder-and-adds-triangulation/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/21/why-are-my-predicted-cousin-relationships-wrong/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/05/family-tree-dna-listens-and-acts/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/09/chromosome-mapping-aka-ancestor-mapping/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/10/family-tree-dnas-family-finder-match-matrix-released/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/15/one-chromosome-two-sides-no-zipper-icw-and-the-matrix/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/06/02/the-autosomal-me-summary-and-pdf-file/

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.

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/01/brought-to-you-by-adoptiondna.html

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/03/21/downloading-ancestrys-autosomal-dna-raw-data-file/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/03/24/ancestry-needs-another-push-chromosome-browser/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/17/ancestrys-updated-v2-ethnicity-summary/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/21/new-search-features-at-ancestrydna-and-a-sneak-peek-at-new-ethnicity-estimates/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/03/ancestrydna-raw-data-and-rootstech.html

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/09/15/dna-disappointment/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/09/13/ancestrydna-begins-rollout-of-update/

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/01/10/decoding-and-rethinking-neanderthals/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/07/04/ancient-dna-analysis-from-canada/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/07/10/5500-year-old-grandmother-found-using-dna/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/25/ancestor-of-native-americans-in-asia-was-30-western-eurasian/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/12/2013-family-tree-dna-conference-day-2/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/22/native-american-gene-flow-europe-asia-and-the-americas/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/05/400000-year-old-dna-from-spain-sequenced/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/10/16/identifying-otzi-the-icemans-relatives/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/recordings-of-royal-societys-ancient.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/02/richard-iii-king-is-found.html

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/22/sequencing-of-neanderthal-toe-bone-reveals-unknown-hominin-line/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/26/native-americans-neanderthal-and-denisova-admixture/

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2013/12/ancient-dna-what-2013-has-brought.html

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/08/24/you-might-be-a-pict-if/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-british-genetic-muddle-by-alistair.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/setting-record-straight-about-sara.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/09/private-eye-on-britainsdna.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/07/private-eye-on-prince-williams-indian.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/06/britainsdna-times-and-prince-william.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/sense-about-genealogical-dna-testing.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/sense-about-genetic-ancestry-testing.html

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/03/26/family-tree-dna-research-center-facilitates-discovery-of-ancient-root-to-y-tree/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/04/10/diy-dna-analysis-genomeweb-and-citizen-scientist-2-0/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/06/27/big-news-probable-native-american-haplogroup-breakthrough/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/07/22/citizen-science-strikes-again-this-time-in-cameroon/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/11/30/native-american-haplogroups-q-c-and-the-big-y-test/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/03/citizen-science-helps-to-rewrite-y.html

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/08/05/autosomal-dna-ancient-ancestors-ethnicity-and-the-dandelion/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/04/ethnicity-results-true-or-not/

http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/09/15/dna-disappointment/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-updated-ethnicity-results-from.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Cruwysnews+%28Cruwys+news%29

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/17/ancestrys-updated-v2-ethnicity-summary/

http://dna-explained.com/2013/10/19/determining-ethnicity-percentages/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/09/12/ancestrydna-launches-new-ethnicity-estimate/

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-first-look-at-chromo-2-all-my.html

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.

http://dna-explained.com/2013/08/10/ngs-series-on-dna-basics-all-4-parts/

https://sites.google.com/site/wheatonsurname/home

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2012/08/getting-started-in-dna-testing-for.html

http://dna-explained.com/2013/12/17/free-webinars-from-family-tree-dna/

http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/09/the-first-dna-day-at-the-southern-california-genealogy-society-jamboree/

http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/06/the-first-ever-independent-genetic.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/10/genetic-genealogy-comes-to-ireland.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/wdytya-live-day-3-part-2-new-ancient.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-do-you-think-you-are-live-day-3.html

http://cruwys.blogspot.com/2013/03/who-do-you-think-you-are-live-2013-days.html

http://genealem-geneticgenealogy.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-surnames-handbook-guide-to-family.html

http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Beginners%27_guides_to_genetic_genealogy

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….