9th Annual Conference Reception

katherine and meIt’s always fun to see everyone in Houston.  I’ve never been a big “joiner.”  No, I didn’t go to my high school class reunion.  But this, well, it’s different.  Many of us have been in this foxhole together for a decade now.  It’s like old home week.  And what is really amazing to me is how many of these people, over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m related to in one way or another.

I have received a couple of questions that I’d like to answer.  One person asked if this conference is available to everyone.  The answer is no.  It is held and subsidized by Family Tree DNA and its focused on their project administrators.  We, as a group, have to stay educated in order to educate and guide others appropriately.  So this is not a conference for beginners, although, clearly, everyone has to start someplace.  Many genealogy conferences now include DNA sessions and DNA tracks.  If you’re unhappy about this, it’s easy to volunteer to assist an administrator for any project of your choice, and then you’ll be eligible to attend.

Are they recording the conference?  No, they aren’t.  Many or most of the speakers work in this field and not everyone is willing to have their sessions made public.  Furthermore, my experience with recording conferences, especially where there is not an auditorium or studio environment is that the audio/video is quite poor.

Is there a “boot camp” for new people?  There isn’t, per se, but Family Tree DNA does offer free webinars periodically which are announced on their website, facebook and other media sources.  I would encourage people to take advantage of these opportunities.

Another change from previous conferences is that Family Tree DNA will be tweeting directly from the conference.

Now for the report on tonight’s reception.

It’s always great to see some new people.  It seems that every year, about 30% of the faces are new.  I see some folks that are repeats from the “new” group last year, which always makes me feel good.  Many of us really try to make sure the new folks feel included.  Katherine Borges and I were trying to figure out who has attended all 9 conferences, and we could only come up with 2 people in addition to ourselves.  However, there are a lot of people who started attending the second year and have been with us ever since.

Family Tree DNA has brought new people on board through their acquisition of Arpeggi this last year and many of those folks were here this evening.  They are excited about the new opportunities in genetic genealogy.  We’ll be hearing more from Jason Wang, Chief Technology Officer, David Mittleman, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (a geneticist by the way), Nir Leibovich, Chief Business Officer and Rudy Marsh, Director of Product later in the conference.

I finally got to meet Marja Pirttivaara in person.  She came from Finland for the conference and will be speaking tomorrow about Bridging Social Media and DNA.  Sadly, her session is the same time as mine so I won’t be able to attend hers:(

I blogged about the serendipitous moment when Marja and I discovered that we share a common ancestor in some distant misty place in Europe.  It was so wonderful to actually get to meet her in person.  I was so excited, I forgot to get a photo, but I will before the end of the conference.

Towards the end of the evening, I caught up with Katherine Borges, founder and Director of ISOGG.  It’s always wonderful to see Katherine.  That’s her and I taking “selfies” above.  I noticed that Katherine had changed clothes from earlier in the evening.  The room was quite warm.  Looking at her, I realized that she was wearing these kind of ribbon wrapped sandals where the ribbons wrapped up her legs.  They were cool in a California sort of way.  Then, I saw them.  Yep….I had to look closer to be sure I really did see what I thought I saw.

katherine nails

One thing about Katherine, you can always count on her passion for genetic genealogy, and also her passion for fun.  Yes indeed, it’s good to be back in Houston.  It’s going to be a great conference.

DNA Day Sale at Family Tree DNA

ftdna sale 4-2013

Beginning today and ending Monday night, April 22nd, at midnight, Family Tree DNA will be having an extensive DNA Day Sale.  Of note, both mitochondrial Full Sequence and Family Finder upgrades will be included, which seldom happens.  Family Tree DNA is taking this opportunity as well to announce technology upgrades in their sequenceing equipment.

If you have been considering either, this is a great sale and a good time to order these tests.  Family Tree DNA’s announcement to project administrators today is provided below.

We are pleased to announce our 2013 DNA DAY Promotion.While the special pricing features all the major tests, we’re   placing particular emphasis on the Full Mitochondrial Sequence and Family   Finder. We’ll offer Y-DNA upgrades during a Father’s Day sale and will give   you those details at that time.By carefully choosing the sale options and limiting the length   of the sale, we will be better able to focus our resources on processing the   tests efficiently and avoiding delays in delivering results.

We are proud to announce we have successfully moved our mtDNA   Full Sequencing line from Sanger DNA sequencing to what is called Next   Generation Sequencing (NGS). This gives us much greater capacity to process   tests, to reduce costs without sacrificing quality, and to ensure shorter   turnaround times.

We must run the entire sequence every time we process an mtDNA   full sequence test, even for upgrades. However, in recognition of your prior   investment- and National DNA Day – we’re offering our lowest price ever for   the FMS and upgrades.

Rather than the 8-10 weeks first generation sequencing   required, we expect results to be completed within 5-6 weeks. This does   depend on the number of orders received though. If their DNA is already at   our lab, those who order first may expect even shorter turnaround times.

For a limited time we will be selling the FMS for $189 and   whether you’ve tested HVR1 or HVR1+2, you’ll be able to upgrade to the Full   Sequence for just $129!

In addition, we are also lowering the Family Finder to $169 for   this sale!

Here is the list of all tests under the promotion:

Full MtDNA Sequence…. $189
Upgrades to FMS….$129
Y-DNA37 (new and add-on)…. $119
Y-DNA67 (new and add-on)…. $199
Y-DNA37 + Full MtDNA Sequence…. $308
Y-DNA12 + FF…. $218
Y-DNA37 + FF…. $288
Y-DNA67 + FF…. $368
Family Finder…. $169
Family Finder + Full MtDNA Sequence…. $358
SuperDNA….$388 (Y-67 + FMS)
Comprehensive DNA…. $557 (Y-67 + FMS + FF)

The sale will begin tonight, April 18th, at 6PM CDT and will   conclude at 11:59PM CDT on Monday April 22nd. All orders must be placed and   paid for by the end of the sale to receive the promotional price.

There will be no need for a coupon – all prices will be   automatically adjusted on the website.

Bennett Greenspan
Family Tree DNA

Rethinking “Out of Africa”

Out of Africa

Neanderthals separated from humans, Homo Sapiens, about 400,000 years ago, but then, in Eurasia, the two species, who were believed to be unable to interbreed, came back together again, and did.  We know this because every population in the world, except for Africa, carries both Neanderthal and/or Denisovan DNA, including aboriginal people from Australia.  This information, newly discovered in the past year or so, raises a lot of thorny questions.

Neaderthals have been grouped as a separate species from Homo Sapiens, modern man, and members of two different species, by definition, are not supposed to be able to interbreed and have fertile offspring.  So are Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens really the same species?

Neanderthals, as a separate species became physically extinct about 30,000 years ago, at least we can no longer find fossil records of them.  But did they really, or did they simply assimilate and genetically, and physically, become the new us?

And if that wasn’t enough, there are the Denisovans and they too interbred with Homo Sapiens.  In fact, Denisovan and Neanderthal bones have been discovered together, and Denisovans are believed to be an offshoot of Neanderthals.  And what about the Hobbits of Flores Island?  Where and how do they fit in?

And there are probably more surprises that await us, because there are more fossilized bones that we have not been able to obtain DNA from that don’t match any of the groups mentioned above.  In the future, discoveries of fossilized bones will likely be made that from which we will be able to recover DNA, as the recovery techniques improve.

But what does all of this mean?  How does it affect what we knew, or thought we knew, about the “Out of Africa” theory that says all contemporary man evolved in African, left Africa and subsequently killed off or replaced all of the other species, such as Neanderthals?  If that’s not true, what is true?  Did we evolve out of African several separate times, getting reacquainted some several 10s (or hundreds) of thousands of years later on another continent?

All of this unexpected mixture causes lots of questions, and today, we don’t have many answers.  But maybe the biggest question is that of what, exactly, is a modern human?

CHRISTOPHER STRINGER is one of the world’s foremost paleoanthropologists. He is a founder and most powerful advocate of the leading theory concerning our evolution: Recent African Origin or “Out of Africa”.  He has worked at The Natural History Museum, London since 1973, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and currently leads the large and successful Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project (AHOB).  His most recent book is The Origin of Our Species (titled Lone Survivors in the US).

Here’s what Christopher has to say:

“At the moment, I’m looking again at the whole question of a recent African origin for modern humans—the leading idea over the last 20 years. This argues that we had a recent African origin, that we came out of Africa, and that we replaced all of the other human forms that were outside of Africa. But we’re having to re-evaluate that now because genetic data suggest that the modern humans who came out of Africa about 60,000 years ago probably interbred with Neanderthals, first of all, and then some of them later on interbred with another group of people called the Denisovans, over in south eastern Asia.”

To read more of Christopher’s thoughts, click here.  They are very interesting and enlightening indeed, from a man who has been in this field since the beginning, a mere 40 years ago.

2012 Blog in Review

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for following and reading my blog this year.  I launched www.dna-explained.com in July, so this annual report is only for 6 months.  The blog had an amazing 85,000 views from 137 countries in 6 months.  Not bad at all.  If you’d like to see more, like which posts were the most popular and who posted the most comments, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 85,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Welcome to the World of Genetic Genealogy

For several years now, I’ve been writing Personalized DNA Reports, publishing articles in newsletters about genetic genealogy and blogging about the Native Heritage Project.

I post lots of free papers to my website at www.dnaexplain.com under the Publications tab, but I’ve often felt the need to be able to talk to and with people who have questions.  I learned long ago that if one person has a question about something, many others probably have that same question.  Blogging is an interactive, personal way to communicate.

Genetic genealogy is a world full of promise, but it changes rapidly and can be confusing.  People need to understand how to use the numerous tools available to us to unravel our ancestral history. 

People also love to share stories.  We become inspired by the successes of others, and ideas are often forthcoming that we would not have otherwise thought of. 

So, I invite you to follow along with this blog as I share things I learn, answer people’s questions and generally, have fun with genetic genealogy!!!