U.K. Border Agency Nationality Testing by DNA Flawed?

I received an interesting email this morning from John Travis. It seems that he’s written an article for the next Science Magazine takes on the idea of using DNA and isotope analysis to scienceinsider-logoevaluate nationality, which the Brits, through their U.K. Border Agency, are favoring at the moment.

Alec Jeffreys, University of Leicester states the following, “Nationality is not genetic, and by the UK Border Agency’s logic, huge numbers of people in the US and UK would fail a DNA-based nationality test (there is no defined US ethnic population unless you use indigenous North Americans in which case virtually everyone fails, and much the same is true for the UK). ”

Following are links to several blogs at Science Insider that might be of interest.

Get Your Mutt’s Breed with the Doggy DNA Kit

Have you ever wanted to know what breeds your mutt dog has in his/her bloodline? Now you can find out, using the Canine Genealogy Kit – for just $59.95. The following is from the Hammacher Schlemmer website:

This kit analyzes your dog’s DNA and identifies the breeds in its ancestry. It provides scientific confirmation of canine-ancestrythe physical characteristics, behavioral tendencies, personality traits, and potential health risks your mixed-breed dog has inherited. A professional laboratory tests a cotton swab that you simply rub against the inside of your dog’s cheek and send to the lab in the provided envelope. The laboratory compares the unique sequences in your canine’s genome with DNA markers from a database of thousands of purebred dogs. The DNA test recognizes 63 different breeds (93% of the most common breeds in the U.S.) that can make up your pet’s genetic profile. You will receive a certificate listing your dog’s ancestry and a detailed explanation of each breed’s dominant characteristics that likely have been passed on to your dog. Takes up to three weeks to receive results. Item 77449 $59.95

I had a dog named Heinz when I was a kid. Named for the 57 variety company… I never even thought about his bloodline, and just assumed he didn’t have one.

Genes Associated With Autism Are Identified

Significant progress has been made in the area of identifying variations in genetic sequence of those suffering from Autism. Following is a teaser from an extremely long and detailed article published in the North Allerton Times.

Scientists have identified “rogue genes that could unlock the riddle of autism”, according to the Daily Mail. The newspaper says that new research is a ‘breakthrough that could help millions,’ potentially improving the understanding and treatment of autism.

The research involved three separate studies, two from the US and one from the University of Oxford, which carried out analysis of the genetic material in children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and their parents, comparing their genes with genetic samples from unaffected people.

This identified several variations in the genetic sequence which are possibly linked to autism. All of the genes concerned appeared to be involved in the formation and function of nerve cells in the brain. These findings offer further understanding of the development of ASD and hope for possibly developing future treatments. However, a lot more research will be needed. It is also likely that many non-genetic factors are involved in the development of ASD. While this area of research is important, genetic variations may not hold the entire answer.

Read the full article.

Japanese Nationality Acquired by DNA Testing

A 76-year-old man who was born to a Japanese man and a Filipino woman in the Philippines before World War II and still lives there will soon acquire Japanese nationality because his Japanese ancestry has been confirmed through DNA analysis, a support group for him has said.

While 26 Japanese-Filipino men and women have been allowed to become Japanese by setting up family registries in Japan so far, it’s the first time a DNA test has been used to get such permission, said the Philippine Nikkei-jin Legal Support Center. The case was based on a ruling Thursday by the Tokyo Family Court.

Read the full article from the Kyodo News in the June 7, 2009 edition of the Japan Times.

DNA Tests May Determine If Skull is Actually From a Mountain Meadows Massacre Victim

mountainmeadowmassacre A bullet-pierced skull, along with a curious note, found on the shelves of a pawnshop is now being studied to attempt to determine if it may that of a Mountain Meadows Massacre victim. Following is an excerpt from an interesting AP article by Jennifer Dobner. The article itself is extensive.

SALT LAKE CITY – For decades it sat on a shelf in a brown cardboard box – a skull pierced in the back with an apparent bullet hole and linked by a typewritten note to a dark and violent chapter in Mormon church history.

Found in a pawnshop 27 years ago, the specimen is now in the hands of the Idaho state archaeologist. Ken Reid is supervising tests to determine whether the skull belongs to a victim of the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857, when 120 men, women and children from an Arkansas-based wagon train were killed by Mormon settlers in southern Utah.

“I was a little bit shocked when I first heard about it,” said Patty Norris of Omaha, president of Mountain Meadows Descendants, one of three descendant organizations. “At this point we’re working on the assumption that it is a victim of the massacre, but all we really know is that they haven’t disproven it yet.”

Reid is getting a second opinion from a Boise State University scientist. Margaret Streeter is working to determine the skull’s possible origins, race, sex and age. Other tests look for damage from weather and animals, in addition to things like gunshot wounds or other signs of trauma.

Depending on Streeter’s findings, DNA testing – including samples taken from remaining teeth – could be recommended as the next step, Reid said.

Members of Norris’s descendant group are willing to give DNA samples for comparison, as are members of two other descendant organizations, the Mountain Meadows Association and the Mountain Meadows Massacre Foundation.

Read the full article in the May 21, 2009 edition of nwanews.com.

According to DNA Studies, the Southwest African Continent is the Origin of Modern Human Migration

A DNA study using over 3000 samples taken over a 10-year period throughout Africa identifies an African continental corner as the origin of modern human migration, near the coastal border of Namibia and Angola. The study appears in the journal Science and shows that the African continent is the most genetically diverse place on Earth.

Samples from four African-American populations were used, tracing most of their ancestry to west Africa.

The group studied was made up of:

  • 121 African populations,
  • 4 African American populations, and
  • 60 non-African populations

They were looking for patterns of variation at 1327 nuclear microsatellite and insertion/deletion markers. It was found that the ancestry of African Americans is mainly from Niger-Kordofanian (71%), European (13%), and other African (8%) populations, although admixture levels varied considerably among individuals.

For more details, see:

USA TodayDNA study in Africa locate origin of human migration.

Science Magazine Website – The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans.

DNA Confirms That Native Americans Are Descended From One Ancestral Group

April 29, 2009, (Sawf News) – DNA evidence shows that Native Americans and Greenlanders are more closely related to each other than to any other existing Asian populations, except those that live at the very edge of the Bering Strait.

For two decades, researchers have been using a growing volume of genetic data to debate whether ancestors of Native Americans emigrated to the New World in one wave or successive waves, or from one ancestral Asian population or a number of different populations.

Now, after painstakingly comparing DNA samples from people in dozens of modern-day Native American and Eurasian groups, an international team of scientists thinks it can put the matter to rest: Virtually without exception the new evidence supports the single ancestral population theory.

Read the full article about the ancestry of Native Americans at the SAWF website.

Test of Lincoln Death Pillow Fragment for DNA Requested

GAR Museum

PHILADELPHIA – John Sotos has a theory about why Abraham Lincoln was so tall, why he appeared to have lumps on his lips and even why he had gastrointestinal problems. The 16th president, he contends, had a rare genetic disorder _ one that would likely have left him dead of cancer within a year had he not been assassinated. And his bid to prove his theory has posed an ethical and scientific dilemma for a small Philadelphia museum in the year that marks the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.

Framed behind glass in the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library in northeast Philadelphia is a small piece of bloodstained pillowcase on which the head of the dying president rested after he was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington 144 years ago.

Sotos, a cardiologist and author, is hoping a DNA test of the strip will reveal whether Lincoln was afflicted with multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 2B. The disorder, which occurs in one in every 600,000 people, would explain Lincoln’s unusual height, his relatively small and asymmetric head and bumps on his lips seen in photos, he said.

The disorder leads to thyroid or adrenal cancer, and Sotos cites Lincoln’s weight loss in office and an appearance of ill health during his final months. He said a finding that Lincoln had the genetic disorder and probably cancer could shed light on his presidency.

Read the full story about President Abraham’s DNA, and possible disease in the April 17, 2009 edition of the Journal Times Online.

The Role of Inbreeding in the Extinction of the Spanish Habsburg Dynasty

Don’t marry your sister. It’s good advice, but one that the royalty often ignored. Scientific evidence confirms what we already knew. The following press release is a VERY ABBREVIATED recap of the paper itself:

Charles II - 1665-1700

The powerful Habsburg dynasty ruled Spain and its empire from 1516 to 1700 but when King Charles II died in 1700 without any children from his two marriages, the male line died out and the French Bourbon dynasty came to power in Spain. Reporting in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, April 15, Gonzalo Alvarez and colleagues at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, provide genetic evidence to support the historical evidence that the high frequency of inbreeding (mating between closely related individuals) within the dynasty was a major cause for the extinction of its male line.

Using the genealogical information for Charles II and 3,000 of his relatives and ancestors across 16 generations, the researchers calculated the inbreeding coefficient (F) for each individual; this value indicates the probability that an individual receives, at a given locus, two genes identical by descent due to the common ancestry of its parents. They found that F increased considerably down the generations—from 0.025 for Philip I, the founder of the dynasty, to 0.254 for Charles II—as the Habsburg kings tended to marry close relatives more frequently in order to preserve their heritage. Several members of the dynasty had inbreeding coefficients higher than 0.20, which means that more than 20% of the genome is expected to be homozygous in these individuals.

The authors cite three lines of evidence to support the theory that inbreeding was a major factor in the extinction of the male Habsburg line, on the death of Charles II.

Firstly, there was a very high level of marriage between biological relatives (consanguineous marriage) within the Habsburg dynasty: nine of the 11 marriages over 200 years were consanguineous, including two uncle-niece marriages, one double-first-cousin marriage and one first-cousin marriage.

The two individuals with the highest inbreeding coefficient were Charles II and his grandfather Philip III. Although both were the sons of uncle-niece marriages, their F values were almost as high as the expected value for the offspring of an incestuous (parent-child or brother-sister) marriage. The researchers explain that this is likely to be due to multiple remote ancestors of these individuals (remote inbreeding), on top of the high degree of relatedness of their parents.

Secondly, there was a high rate of infant and child mortality in the Habsburg families with only half of the children born in the dynasty during the years studied surviving to age one, compared to about 80% in Spanish villages of the time. Alvarez and colleagues calculated that inbreeding at the level of first cousin (F = 0.0625) exerted an adverse effect on the survival to age 10 of offspring of 17.8 % ± 12.3, which could explain the high levels of infant and child mortality.

Thirdly, Charles II, dubbed El Hechizado (“The Hexed”), suffered from many different disorders and illnesses, some of which may result from the consanguineous marriage of his parents. According to contemporary writings he was short and weak and suffered from intestinal problems and sporadic hematuria. Children of closely consanguineous couples often have an increased incidence of detrimental health effects due to rare deleterious recessive alleles inherited from common ancestors, although this will depend on how inbred their pedigree is already.

Based on this clinical genetic knowledge and on information gathered by historians on the health of Charles II, Alvarez and colleagues speculate that the simultaneous occurrence of two different genetic disorders (combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis), determined by recessive alleles at two unlinked loci, could explain much of the complex clinical profile of this king, including his impotence/infertility, which led to the extinction of the dynasty.

CITATION: Alvarez G, Ceballos FC, Quinteiro C (2009) The Role of Inbreeding in the Extinction of a European Royal Dynasty. PLoS ONE.

Nephew of Alex Haley Meets Newfound Scottish Cousin for the First Time

The following News Release was written by Ancestry.com Staff:

Chris Haley & June Baff Black - London, February 2009 - PRNewsFoto/Ancestry

PROVO, Utah, April 7 /PRNewswire/ – Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online resource for family history, announced today that the late Alex Haley, author of Roots – the decisive masterpiece that inspired many Americans to take pride in their heritage – was the direct descendent of a Scottish ancestor. The discovery came through an Ancestry.com DNA test taken by Alex Haley’s nephew Chris Haley in 2007, where his results were added to a growing database of others who had taken DNA tests.

In February 2009, Chris Haley received an e-mail from a Scottish woman in the database, June Baff Black, whose father’s DNA very closely matched his. According to the DNA results, an ancestor who likely lived in the 1600 or 1700s in Scotland connects Mr. Haley with Ms. Black, making them distant cousins. Mr. Haley and Ms. Black met for the first time on Feb. 28, 2009, in London, England.

Until the confirmation by Ancestry.com, Mr. Haley had only word-of-mouth history to prove that his great-grandfather had been born of a slave mother and a white father, both of whom lived and worked on an Alabama slave plantation. This scientific finding adds weight to research conducted by Mr. Haley’s uncle, Alex Haley, in which he traced his ancestry back to Baugh (variation of Baff) – an overseer of an Alabama slave plantation – who was thought to have fathered Mr. Haley’s great-grandfather with a female slave. The story is cited in Alex Haley’s book Queen.

“Through the writing of Roots, my uncle Alex Haley sparked a fascination in researching the past. DNA testing is a continuation of that and is another way of emboldening yourself with pride. To be able to find out that you are from another part of the world, and to meet a person who shares your heritage, is an amazing experience,” said Chris Haley, who is currently the director of the Study of the Legacy of Slavery at the Maryland State Archives.

“The match between Mr. Haley and Ms. Black is a perfect example of how DNA testing can prove exceptionally useful in advancing family history, especially in cases of African-American research in which traditional channels often hit ‘brick walls,'” said DNA genealogy expert Megan Smolenyak.

Genetic genealogy is a technology that reveals family relatedness – a genetic (DNA) connection to individuals to whom you are related. Ancestry.com’s DNA kits test the paternal or maternal line by studying either the ‘Y-chromosome’ (passed from father to son) or ‘mitochondrial DNA’ (which is passed from mother to son and daughter). The Ancestry.com DNA service compares the results from one DNA test with thousands of other people in its database who have taken the same test, identifying possible matches around the world as well as supplying the recipient with rich detail about their ancient ancestry.

“This is a perfect example of what a simple cheek swab can achieve,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO of The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of Ancestry.com. “DNA testing uses science in a way that enables people to discover their ancestry where traditional research goes cold and to connect with living relatives they never knew they had.”

Ancestry.com’s DNA test results can help introduce living cousins, help you prove your genetic relation to a specific individual and trace the migration patterns ancient ancestors followed as they left Africa. Ancestry.com’s 33-marker paternal DNA test is available for $79. For more information about Ancestry.com’s DNA testing kits, visit www.dna.ancestry.com.


About Ancestry.com and The Generations Network
The Generations Network, Inc., through its flagship Ancestry.com property, is the world’s leading resource for online family history. Ancestry.com has local websites in nine countries and has digitized and put online over 7 billion names and 27,000 historical records collections over the past ten years. Since July 2006, Ancestry.com users have created 9.3 million family trees containing 915 million profiles and 18 million photographs and stories. The Generations Network also includes myfamily.com, Genealogy.com, Rootsweb.ancestry.com, MyCanvas.com, dna.ancestry.com, Family Tree Maker and Ancestry Magazine. More than 7 million unique visitors spent over 3 million hours on a TGN website in January 2009 (comScore Media Metrix, Worldwide).

Alex & Chris Haley’s Scots’ Roots Back in the News.

I blogged about Alex Haley’s Scots’ roots in very early March. Now I see that USA Today is again reporting on his Scottish roots. And of course, his nephew Chris Haley, has those same roots, so he’s having quite a time with it. Following is a teaser:

Chris Haley's roots

When Alex Haley’s your uncle, people assume you know everything there is to know about your roots. But Roots, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book whose veracity has been challenged over the years, deals mainly with Alex Haley’s mother’s family.

Thanks to technology that became available after the author’s death in 1992, nephew Chris Haley recently uncovered a new branch of his family tree that extends not from Africa but from Scotland, through Alex Haley’s father’s family. And it appears to confirm part of the Haley family history recounted in the novel Queen.

Chris Haley, 46, the son of Alex Haley’s brother, Julius, directs research for the study of the legacy of slavery for the state of Maryland. “When I was very young, my grandmother gave me a copy of A Pictorial History of the Negro in America,” says Haley, a native of Washington, D.C., who’s also an actor, singer, writer and radio show host. “That cemented in me a passion for black history.”

Read the full article in the April 6, 2009 edition of USAToday.com.

DNA Provides Evidence of Ancient Invasion of Scotland From Ireland

London, April 3 (ANI): In a new DNA analysis, Scots living on Islay, Lewis, Harris and Skye were found to have strong links with Irish people, thus providing evidence of an ancient invasion of Scotland from Ireland.

According to a report by BBC News, the research, which features work by geneticist Dr Jim Wilson, a specialist in population genetics, was the first demonstration of a significant Irish genetics component in Scots’ ancestry.

The study also suggests intriguing ancestry of Scots living on the Western Isles and in the north and north east of Scotland.

“It was extremely exciting to see for the first time the ancient genetic connection between Scotland and Ireland – the signature of a movement of people from Ireland to Scotland, perhaps of the Scots or Gaels themselves,” Dr Wilson said.

The origin of the Gaels, who by conquering and integrating with Pictish northern tribes created the Kingdom of Alba, has been debated by historians for centuries.

Read the full article the April 3, 2009 edition of thaindian.com.

All is Not Well in the DNA Business

decodeme The lousy economy is having a dramatic effect on most business today, and that includes some of the high-tech genetic & DNA related businesses that have come to life over the last few years.

Now we find that deCODE Genetics, an Icelandic biotech company, and the folks behind DeCodeMe.com, is in some serious financial trouble. According to reports just released, as of the end of 2008, the company had liquid funds available for operating activities, comprised of cash and cash equivalents together with current investments, of 3.7 million dollars. Compare that to the $64.2 million exactly one year before. The company believes it can continue operations into the 2nd quarter of this year (that quarter starts in about than 5 hours, folks).

From what I’ve read, the company did some really good work, accessing its unique assets (access to the DNA, health and genealogical records of a large proportion of the Icelandic population) to answer fundamental questions about human genetics. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen their studies quoted in various articles.

As you can see, the economic downturn is worldwide, and will continue to have worldwide consequences. It effects all of us… and, sad to say, it will continue to get worse.

Read more about deCODE Genetics and their current financial situation in the March 31, 2009 edition of scienceblogs.com

Genetic Discrimination is a Fact in Some Countries

According to an article by Ozlem Susler, in the March 27, 2009 edition of ScienceAlert, genetic discrimination is already a fact in Australia. Unlike the United States, where the “Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act” was enacted in 2008, Australia currently has no such protections. They are looking at it however. Check out Susler’s column. It’s interesting… Following is a teaser.

The brave new world of genetic screening to identify any genetic predisposition to particular diseases has opened a Pandora’s box in the sciencealertrealms of equality, human rights and social justice to name a few. Geller et al have defined genetic discrimination as the differential treatment of individuals or their relatives on the grounds of actual or presumed hereditary differences.

It must be conceded that the advantage of genetic screening at birth or an early age, enables carefully planned medical management aimed to postpone the onset, effectively treat, and possibly cure genetically based conditions. The other side of the coin is not as encouraging, such genetic information may be used by organisations such as life insurance companies to restrict or deny insurance on the grounds of family history of disease or the results of genetic screening, which is argued to amount to genetic discrimination.

Read the full article.

Genetic Data From the 1630s Saves Lives

The following News Release was written by American Chemical Society staff:

A Utah family from 1900, one of the many that appear in the Utah Population Database. This particular family did not carry the colon cancer gene. Courtesy of Geri Mineau, University of Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY, March 25, 2009 – In the 1630s, the Fry family came to the New World with more than just dreams of prosperity and freedom — they also came with a genetic mutation that increased the likelihood of colon cancer in hundreds, if not thousands, of their descendants. The scientists who traced that gene back almost 370 years are now reporting that routine screening and education can prevent people with the mutated gene from developing cancer.

Their new report on Mr. and Mrs. George Fry, who likely arrived in Massachusetts colony aboard the William & Mary, was presented today at the 237th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Deb Neklason, Ph.D., and colleagues explained how they used cancer records and a massive genealogic archive known as the Utah Population Database (UPDB) to trace the genetic condition to a Utah pioneer family and their 7,000 descendents. A New York family with the same genetic condition was also linked to the Utah group, which helped trace the two families back 16 generations to the Frys. The gene mutation causes a condition known as attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP). AFAP causes the growth of colorectal polyps that have the potential to become cancerous.

People with the AFAP mutation have about a two in three risk of getting colon cancer, compared to about one in 24 for the general population. Once aware they have inherited the gene, these individuals usually follow a regimen of periodic screening for the polyps with colonoscopy, and removal of suspicious growths, in an effort to avoid cancer.

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