deCode Genetics Files for Bankruptcy

deCode Genetics

DeCode Genetics, a pioneering company that used the Icelandic population as its guinea pigs in detecting disease-causing mutations, filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday.

The company’s demise suggests that the medical promise of the human genome may take much longer to be fulfilled than its sponsors had hoped. Based in Reykjavik, Iceland, it was founded in 1996 by Dr. Kari Stefansson, a research neurologist who worked at the University of Chicago and at Harvard. After the human genome sequence was achieved in 2003, Dr. Stefansson quickly realized that Iceland’s excellent medical records, combined with the genealogical information available on its close-knit population, provided a fine test bed for seeking the roots of genetically complex diseases like cancer, diabetes and schizophrenia.

The mutations that deCode detected in each major disease were responsible for too few cases to support the development of widely used diagnostic tests or blockbuster drugs.

Today’s bankruptcy affects deCode Genetics, the parent company based in the United States that owns the Icelandic operation, called Íslensk Erfagreining. That operation is being put up for auction and, depending on the wishes of its new owners, could continue its gene-hunting efforts much as before.

Read the full article in the November 17, 2009 edition of the New York Times.

Issues with mtDNA

The following excerpt is from an article in the November 9, 2009 edition of Law Times by Canadian Rosalind Conway. If this interests you, be sure and read the full article. There’s a lot more to it. Interesting stuff…

Nuclear DNA can provide a veritable match to a suspect, but mitochondrial DNA is a relatively new phenomenon in Canadian courts.

Known as mtDNA, it’s the genetic material found in the mitochondria of cells rather than the nucleus.
MtDNA has been used in anthropological and genealogical studies as well as after 9-11 and to examine the remains of Czar Nicholas II. Still, its use in American courts is controversial.

You inherit mtDNA maternally. Absent genetic mutations, a mother’s mtDNA passes on to her children. As a result, they have the same mtDNA as their maternal relatives.

A rootless hair may have degraded DNA that cannot yield a nuclear DNA profile. But mtDNA is available in great numbers in the cell, meaning the profile of the evidentiary sample may be available.

The mtDNA test result reveals markers or nucleotides and ultimately a profile or what’s called a haplotype. This profile is compared with those in a databank created by the FBI in the United States.

The Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods database contains 4,839 convenience samples collected in a non-random manner from FBI agents, paternity suit samples, and other sources.

The FBI database contains 1,655 Caucasians, 1,148 African-Americans, and 686 people of Hispanic descent. About half the haplotypes appear only once, but that still makes it difficult to tell if they are rare because the databank is so small.

Read the full article.

Five Ethnic Groups in Ghana Targeted by DNA Studies of Family Tree DNA

A firm in Houston, Texas that pioneered the use of DNA tests in genealogy studies is involved in a project in Africa Family Tree DNAthat could help researchers there trace migration patterns over the centuries and help African Americans to connect with their roots. Family Tree DNA and its partners will start by collecting samples from specific ethnic groups in West Africa.

Most black people in America know that their ancestors were in Africa, but they have little information about where in Africa they were or to which tribe or ethnic group they belonged.

The project being launched by Family Tree DNA, here in Houston, in cooperation with the Boston-based enterprise, will begin by targeting five specific ethnic groups in Ghana that are known to have provided slaves to European traders during the Atlantic slave-trade era.

Read the full article in the October 27, 2009 edition of the

Ida Related to Lemurs, Not Humans


NEW YORK — Remember Ida, the fossil discovery announced last May with its own book and TV documentary? A publicity blitz called it “the link” that would reveal the earliest evolutionary roots of monkeys, apes and humans.

Experts protested that Ida wasn’t even a close relative. And now a new analysis supports their reaction.

In fact, Ida is as far removed from the monkey-ape-human ancestry as a primate could be, says Erik Seiffert of Stony Brook University in New York.

He and his colleagues compared 360 specific anatomical features of 117 living and extinct primate species to draw up a family tree. They report the results in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

Read the full AP article in the October 23, 2009 edition of the Sentinel Source.

Another link:

The Fossil Skeleton Known as Ida Is No Ancestor of Humans – at

WWII Marine’s Remains Thought to be Located in China

It’s now thought that it is known where Staff Sergeant Billy Lynch is buried in China. It’s too cold to dig, but next spring Moore’s Marauders will send scientists to attempt to locate his remains. With the help of DNA from his nieces, it’s hoped this this hero’s remains my be identified and returned home. Following is an excerpt from a very moving story written by Kevin Cullen for the Boston Globe.

Staff Sergeant Billy Lynch

Billy Lynch left Dorchester 72 years ago, and they’re pretty sure they’ve finally found him, a long way from home, deep in the ground in China.

Staff Sergeant Billy Lynch was a Marine. He grew up on Victory Road, and if you go to the corner of Victory and Neponset Avenue, you’ll see the black street sign with the gold star that commemorates William Joseph Lynch Square. It is a place of honor for a Marine who disappeared 67 years ago.

He left Neponset for the Marines in 1937, right out of high school, and never came back. He was stationed in China when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and then went to the Philippines and was there when the Japanese invaded. After the battle of Corregidor in 1942, the Japanese took him prisoner.

Read the full story in the October 22, 2009 edition of

What’s This About “Jumping Genes?”

The following excerpt is from an article in the October 10, 2009 edtion of Life Scientist out of Australia. Honestly, it’s beyond me, but I bet some of you folks understand all this completely…

An international team of researchers has described the finest map of changes to the structure of human genomes jumping genesas a resource for researchers worldwide to look at the role of these changes in human disease.

They also identify 75 ‘jumping genes’ – regions of our genome that can be found in more than one location in some individuals.

However, the team cautions that they have not found a large numbers of candidates that might alter susceptibility to complex diseases such as diabetes or heart disease among the common structural variants. They suggest strategies for finding this ‘dark matter’ of genetic variation.

Human genomes differ because of single-letter variations in the genetic code and also because whole segments of the code might be deleted or multiplied in different human genomes. These larger, structural differences are called copy number variants (CNVs).

The new research to map and characterise CNVs is of a scale and a power unmatched to date, involving hundreds of human genomes, billions of data points and many thousands of CNVs.

Read the full article.

Memorial Service Planned for Boy Who Died 160 Years ago.

MODEST TOWN [Virginia] – Modest Town Baptist Cemetery will be the setting of an unusual memorial service Oct. 10 for an Accomack County child who died nearly 160 years ago.

William Taylor White, an orphan who died of pneumonia at age 15 in 1852, became the focus of a forensic investigation that made national headlines after his cast-iron coffin was unearthed in 2005 by utility workers replacing a gas line in Washington.

Many of his family members will attend the 3 p.m. graveside service, including the Pennsylvania woman whose DNA provided the key to the boy’s identity. Smithsonian Institution researchers who helped identify White also plan to be there, as does Eastern Shore Public Library staffer Rachelle Luttig, whose genealogical research found hundreds of White’s relatives.

Read the full article by Carol Vaughn in the October 3, 2009

Roots Television is 3 Years Old!

I note that Roots Television is now 3 years old – and they are celebrating by sharing the 10 most popular and 3-years-oldintriguing videos showcased to date. To see the full list, click on over to the Og Blog.

The Top 10 Videos themselves are as follows:
DNA: Tale of 2 Fathers
In Search of Annie Moore
Down Under Florida: Ashley
Unclaimed Persons
Cyndi’s List
Psychic Roots
Heir Jordan
Haley-Baff Genetic Reunion
DNA: Were They Sisters?
DNA: Did She Marry Her Cousin?

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

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.