FamilyTreeDNA.com: New Family Finder test officially launched

As of today, FamilyTreeDNA.com’s new Family Finder test has been officially launched.

The new test connects family members across all ancestral lines, not only paternal or maternal. It represents a major advancement over earlier genetic genealogy tests. Everyone, regardless of gender, can now look for connections including grandparents, aunts and uncles, half siblings, and first, second, third and fourth cousins.

The company’s database numbers more than 290,000 individual records – the largest DNA database in genetic genealogy. This makes FamilyTreeDNA the prime source for anyone researching recent and distant family ties.

Importantly, for Tracing the Tribe readers, that database also includes the largest Jewish DNA database. This means that if you’re looking for genetic matches sharing your genetic heritage, you should test against the largest Jewish DNA database. The same holds true for everyone interested in genetic genealogy. One should to test against the largest database available for the best probability of finding matches.

According to today’s official press release:

The test utilizes Affymetrix’ recently launched Axiom™ genotyping technology and the GeneTitan® System to confidently match a wide range of family relationships within five generations.

Said FamilyTreeDNA founder/CEO Bennett Greenspan, in Houston, Texas:

“This is the most exciting genetic genealogy breakthrough since 2000, when FamilyTreeDNA launched its Y-DNA test to uncover relatives in the direct paternal line.” 

“The comprehensive, genome-wide coverage of Axiom Arrays enables us to offer consumers the most advanced genealogical test available at a price that is attractive to our customers. In addition, the automated GeneTitan System allows us to process hundreds of samples at a time with minimal hands-on time for maximum efficiency.”

Said Affymetrix president/CEO Kevin King, in Santa Clara, California:

“The Family Finder test represents a huge step forward for the direct-to-consumer genetic genealogy market and the application of microarray technology, Now anyone can utilize the power of the Axiom Genotyping Solution and the GeneTitan System to find and connect with a broader range of family members than ever before.”

How does it work?

The test analyzes the DNA of two individuals using Axiom Array Plates containing nearly 570,000 genetic markers, including many that are relevant to genealogy. Family Tree DNA then analyzes the resulting data with internally developed algorithms to determine the closeness of the relationship. The complete Axiom Genotyping Solution includes array plates, complete reagent kits, and an automated workflow that enables scientists to process more than 760 samples per week.

FamilyTreeDNA.com offers counseling services, tutorials and other helpful tools to assist in the genealogy and matching process. Importantly, it provides names and email addresses of matched individuals whenever possible for easy communication.

For more information about the new Family Finder test, click here; for Affymetrix, click here.

Seattle: Bennett Greenspan, May 10

FamilyTreeDNA.com founder Bennett Greenspan will speak on the new genetic genealogy test at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State on Monday, May 10.
The program is titled “The Y Chromosome and Beyond: Tracing Your Genealogy with the ‘Other’ DNA.”
It begins at 7.30pm in the Stroum JCC Auditorium on Mercer Island. Doors open at 7pm, the JSWS library will be available, along with Wi-Fi.
Many genealogists have been using genetic genealogy, and specifically FamilyTreeDNA.com, to learn more about their ancestors and find relatives using Y-DNA for paternal lines and mtDNA for maternal lines.

The tests have been essential tools in exploring recent and early Jewish roots, including links among Ashkenazim and Sephardim (such as in the IberianAshkenaz DNA Project, co-administered by Judy Simon and myself).

Now there’s a new test that uses autosomal chromosomes to look for close relationships along all ancestral lines, and can find links between male and female cousins across all family lines for the past five generations. Bennett will explain the new test in detail and provide exciting examples of new matches. He will also discuss the nuances of Y-DNA and mtDNA testing.

Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Bennett is the founder/CEO of FamilyTreeDNA.com. He spent years investigating his maternal grandfather’s ancestors – an obsession that turned into a full-time vocation and led him to become a founder of the growing field now known as genetic genealogy. FamilyTreeDNA and other cooperative ventures, including the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project and AfricanDNA.com, now comprise the largest non-medical DNA testing program in the world.

Fee: JGSWS members, free; others, $5. For more information, click here.

Boston: Sephardic Jewry history, DNA – April 25

Two Sephardic presentations (covering history, genealogy and DNA) are on the program of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston on Sunday, April 25.

The program begins at 1:30 pm, at Temple Emanuel, Newton Centre, with Brandeis Professor Jonathan Decter, and Tracing the Tribe’s good friend Dr. Dan Laby of Harvard University Medical School.

In “Sephardic Jewry after the Expulsion from Spain,” Decter will talk about Sephardic migration after 1492 – to Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, Europe, and the Americas, with a focus on Eastern and Central Europe. He will discuss intellectual and economic connections across the Sephardi Diaspora, and the nature of Sephardi identity.

Laby will present “Tracing Family to 13th Century Spain,” Dr. Daniel Laby will describe his quest to trace his Laby- De La Caballeria family. Using both modern (DNA) and classical methods (microfilms), he was able to follow the trail from western Massachusetts and New York’s Lower East Side all the way back to the Ottoman Empire and pre-inquisition Spain.

[NOTE: In fact, Dan holds a document dated 1202 from the same archive – Lerida/Lleida (in Catalunya, about 140km NW of Barcelona) where our first Talalay document, dated 1358, was discovered. We share the same researcher in Spain.]

Decter is Associate Professor and the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. His first book, “Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe,” received the 2007 Salo W. Baron prize for best first book in Judaic Studies.

Laby is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and is a specialist in Sports Vision working with the Boston Red Sox as well as several other professional and Olympic teams.

Fee: JGSGB members, free; others, $5.
Click for directions. For more information about JGSGB, click here.

Oregon: DNA genetic genealogy, April 20

Genetic genealogy with Emily D. Aulicino is on the program at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon, on Tuesday, April 20.

The talk begins at 7.30pm at Congregation Ahavath Achim, Portland. Doors open at 7pm for networking and assistance with genealogy questions.

Genetic genealogy, the use of DNA testing to aid traditional genealogical research, is a new and accurate field for the family historian as it can prove or disprove family connections. In this information-packed program, learn the basics of DNA testing and how it helps your research. Learn about different tests and the value of each. Understand who to test and why.

Find out why FamilyTreeDNA.com’s new test, Family Finder, is the next generation in DNA testing and goes beyond what previous tests could do.

Aulicino will answer questions and address such issues as privacy and getting your family to participate.

A $30 gift certificate toward a DNA test will be raffled at no cost to those attending the program.

A retired teacher, Aulicino has researched her family’s genealogy for more than 40 years, traveling nationally and internationally for that purpose. She is a speaker and regional coordinator for the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG), and teaches genetic genealogy at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon (Portland).

She has attended five annual FamilyTreeDNA.com administrator conferences, where she spoke in 2007. In 2008, she presented at the West Coast African American Summit (Bellevue, Washington), and in 2009 and 2010, attended the London UK “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” family history fair.

She administers 13 DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA (surname, geographical and societies) and seven surname email lists on Roots Web, three genetic genealogy email lists with another that helps helps genealogists and non-genealogists write their  family and personal memories.

Attendees interested in testing with FamilyTreeDNA can receive discounted tests through the JGSO page. For more information on the arrangement, click here.

Fee:  JGSO members, free; others, $5. See the JGSO website for directions and additional information.

JGSLA 2010: What you will find!

Don’t bother getting vaccinated for the genealogy bug – it won’t help! Just be prepared for an amazing genealogy immersion experience this year.

From gold-rush pioneers to goniffs, from geo-tagging to gazetteers, and many other exciting topics, JGSLA 2010 has gathered experts, archivists, professors and authors from around the world to share their knowledge of a diverse range of fascinating topics with you and your fellow conference attendees.

These experts will bring genealogy – and possibly your personal genealogy – to life and present a new world of possibilities.

Regardless of whether you identify as a mind-mapper, Google geek, PC-pusher, Mac-Maven, Litvak, Galitzianer or “somewhere in Russia,” JGSLA 2010 is for you!

In fact, you don’t even need to be Jewish or researching your Jewish heritage – many programs provide general information, no matter what you are personally researching.

You’ll never know whom you’ll connect with at lunch, having a cup of coffee or taking a workshop. A long lost cousin? Descendants of your ancestral village? Someone investigating your family?

Will this be the year you find someone to share your research, to collaborate with others, to design a website for your research interests? Will a new resource or database provide that all-important clue enabling a major breakthrough?

You won’t know unless you come to this year’s conference!

A few tidbits:

— Ancestry will provide classes and a free (by-appointment) digital scanning service for attendees.

— JewishGen’s Warren Blatt and Michael Tobias will present “JewishGen LIVE at L.A. LIVE” on their latest databases and search capabilities.

— Steve Morse, a household genealogy name, will present a series on his website’s resources, but his new program, presented with daughter Megan, will be “DNA and the Animal Kingdom: Evolution and Genealogy in the Natural World.”

Stay tuned for news on workshops, special interest groups, birds-of-a-feather groups, films, breakfasts and tours. Everything you need to know is at JGSLA 2010.

Genetic testing: Affordable vs future research

In the wake of a Federal court’s ruling last week against a Utah company holding patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, Tracing the Tribe has some questions.

On the plus side, Tracing the Tribe believes that companies now wishing to provide lower-cost, more affordable, genetic testing will be able to do so – eventually – although legal experts believe the case will land in the Supreme Court.

Note that Tracing the Tribe is not talking DNA genetic genealogy testing, but rather testing for specific genetic conditions/diseases. The questions are relevant because some patent holders charge high fees for those tests, restricting affordable access to those who may want or need those tests.

Please chime in here, dear readers:

(1) Should genetic testing for specific conditions/diseases be made more affordable and accessible, e.g. low-cost, to everyone?

(2) Should high fees be demanded of those wishing to test – to provide financing for research on those conditions.

(3) Who owns your DNA? (according to this case, it isn’t the DNA patent-holder).

(4) Because this is a Jewish genealogy blog, Tracing the Tribe is well aware that when Tay-Sachs testing (a tragic, nearly fatal by age 3, neurological disease) went worldwide, the incidence of its occurrence dropped by some 98%. This was due to widespread, affordable, accessible testing across the Jewish world. There are many other genetic diseases impacting mostly those of Jewish heritage. Shouldn’t those families have affordable access to lower-cost testing?

According to paper, the DNA industry is waiting to hear the reaction to the ruling .

Scientists and health advocates sued Utah-based Myriad Genetics, which held patents for two genes, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2, linked to breast and ovarian cancers. The groups alleged that the patents were improper because the DNA was a natural substance in the human body. The federal judge sided with the plaintiffs, invalidating parts of the patents.

Ken Alltucker’s article says that researchers and companies are interested because the ruling could impact many other genes.

The ruling is critical because an estimated 20 percent of human genes have been patented. Companies launched based on those patents, with investors betting that companies could profitably develop drugs or devices targeting an individual’s unique DNA.

But critics argue that such patents stymie research. Scientists often are required to get permission from the gene patent holders before using the information for research. Some companies even charge fees to use them.

The story quoted Arizona BioIndustry Association president Robert Green:

“The key in biotechnology is you have to raise a lot of money to get to the cure and get to the product. You can only raise that money if investors know you have some patent protection. If you don’t have that, there is no incentive for people to invest in these risky technologies.”

Some 20% of human genes have been patented, according to the story. Investors betted that companies could develop drugs or devices based on a unique DNA.

DNA: Disease analysis or genealogy?


According to a New York Times article, analyzing DNA for disease risk isn’t as popular as its providers thought it might be.

There’s a big difference between those consumer segments who participate in genetic genealogy testing rather than disease analysis.

Andrew Pollack’s story focused on 23&Me but also mentioned Navigenics and DeCode Genetics, in the article which discussed the lack of paying customers and small numbers of paying customers.

Connected to Google by both love and money, 23andMe seems the epitome of a 21st-century company — a cutting-edge merging of biotechnology and the Internet, with a dash of celebrity thrown in.

The scarce ingredient so far is customers.

23&Me is the most prominent, founded in 2007 by the wife (Anne Wojcicki) of Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin. It launched with celebrity “spit parties” to market personal genomics services. Individuals’ DNA is scanned and promises to provide the risks for developing many diseases.

However, 23&Me has gone through two series of layoffs (from 70 to 40 employees). According to the story, it has only 35,000 customers and about 25% were tested for free or $25. Normally the teats run from $300-2,000. The other two companies mentioned have even fewer customer.

Professional geneticists call it a “wonderful form of recreation,” but that its practical value is “premature.”

On its third CEO in a year, Navigenics has had layoffs and now sells to doctors and corporate wellness programs instead of the public. Insiders say there are only about 20,000 customers, and 5,000 received large discounts to participate.

DeCode Genetics only attracted fewer than 10,000 customers to its personal genomics service, and went through bankruptcy.

Read the complete story at the link above for more.