Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The risks and rewards of online DNA testings; it worth handing over your body’s blueprints?

Kimberley Hunt, a Toronto-based private investigator, was born in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, in 1966, the only black child among her six white siblings. Her mother, who died when Hunt was just four, never revealed who her father was. Raised in Toronto by her older sister, Hunt wondered for decades about her paternal lineage. A few years ago, her sister bought her a DNA kit for Christmas. Hunt followed the kit’s instructions and sent off her sample—a gob of spit in a plastic vial—to the company’s lab.

Within weeks, she received information about cousins on her father’s side. One led her to a half-sister and the truth about her past. Her dad, it turns out, was the only black hockey player on the Corner Brook Royals from 1962 to 1967. Hunt discovered this too late to meet him—he died in 1985—but she did joyfully connect with three half-siblings and a whole slew of other relatives.

Thanks to the widespread use of DNA kits, thousands of people like Hunt are reconnecting with birth parents, siblings, half-siblings and cousins all over the world. Her dramatic story, and those of other DNA kit–facilitated connections and reunions can be found in “Family Ties.”

But what is the hidden cost of such revelations? The promise of uncovering our ethnic origins, or learning about disease predispositions, or connecting with long-lost relatives, is so alluring, few stop to consider what’s at stake.

The two largest DNA-kit companies on the market—23andMe and AncestryDNA—are cashing in on that curiosity, big time. They now have the DNA sequences of millions of people, and they’re just starting to figure out what they might do with all that knowledge.

Anne Wojcicki, who founded 23andMe, lives in Mountain View, California, and her firm follows the same model as many other massive Silicon Valley tech companies: the product is irresistible, affordable (DNA kits sell for just over $100 apiece) and collects as much data on the user as possible. Last year, the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline invested $300 million in 23andMe to get exclusive rights to its customer data for research.

The Utah-based company AncestryDNA shares its database of some 15 million customers with a Google subsidiary researching how to extend human longevity. Technically, you have to opt in for your DNA to be included in such research projects, but who reads the fine print?

Law enforcement, of course, loves having access to the public’s DNA. The Canada Border Services Agency has used DNA to identify some detainees. And famously, American investigators identified the suspected Golden State Killer last year by uploading his old DNA sample to an open-source DNA database. They found a partial match with one of his relatives and managed to track him down.

Regulators are scrambling to catch up to the tech. Two years ago, Canada passed the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, making it illegal for employers or insurance companies to discriminate based on genetic data revealing any medical predisposition to disease. But fast-moving Silicon Valley disruptors can often overpower local regulatory bodies.

DNA kits are hugely appealing, as the people in our feature illustrate. The rewards can be tremendous. But user beware: they could come back to haunt you or your relatives years down the road.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ancient DNA reveals that Jews' biblical rivals were from Greece

Genetic sequencing of bones and teeth from ten Philistines who lived in what is now Israel 3200 years ago suggests a surge of migration from the Aegean at the time

To call someone a philistine today is to brand them uncultured, but to the Hebrew people in the Christian Bible, it meant something worse: the Philistines were a separate group who were often their adversaries.

Now DNA sequencing of ten Philistine skeletons suggests they really were a genetically distinct community. Around 1200 BC, in at least one key Philistine city there was an influx of south European genes, suggesting a surge of Greek immigrants to the region, says Michal Feldman at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.

The Bible’s Old Testament makes numerous references to the Philistines; for instance, Goliath, the “giant” who fought David, was a Philistine, as probably was Delilah, said to have betrayed Samson by cutting his hair.

Multiple excavations from sites of ancient Philistine cities, such as Ashkelon, on the coast of what is now Israel, have yielded pottery remains that are Greek in style. One suggestion was that people could simply have adopted Aegean cultural practices via sea trading routes.

To investigate, Feldman’s team tried to extract DNA from 108 skeletal remains excavated from various burial places in Ashkelon that had been dated to either the Bronze Age or Iron Age. Ten produced useful genetic information from their bones or teeth, and this was compared with DNA from other populations all over the world, both ancient and modern.

The remains could be divided into three time periods. The earliest three individuals found in a necropolis came from about 1600 BC, four were infants that had been buried under houses around 1200 BC, and three more individuals were from a cemetery by the city wall and came from about 1100 BC.

The people from the middle period had significant ancestry from southern Europe, with 20 to 60 per cent similarity to DNA from ancient skeletons from Crete and Iberia and that from modern people living in Sardinia, an Italian island.

However, the last group of three bodies had no more detectable Greek ancestry than the first group. “Probably all these immigrants that came in intermarried with the local population until this foreign ancestry was diluted,” says Feldman.

“Putting the genetic data together with the archaeological data strengthens the case that there was migration from the areas that we now call Greece and western Turkey,” says Christoph Bachhuber of the University of Oxford, who wasn’t involved in the work.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A DNA Test Showed My Father Wasn’t My Father. Here’s Why I’m Glad.

When the message I'd been anticipating for six weeks finally popped up in myinbox, I froze. Did I really want to see the results of my dad's DNA test?Sure, why wouldn't I? But I hesitated to click on it. I took a few deepbreaths and told myself I was being dramatic. At least I thought I was, untilI opened the results to find that the man who raised me--a man who waseverything I could have wished a father to be--didn't share any DNA with me.The news went through me like an electric shock. Before I could even catch my breath, I understood that everything had changed—that my heritage, family medical history, and even my birth certificate were bogus. Most of my relatives were no longer mine. My identity collapsed like a building imploded, all because my dad and I spat in a couple of tubes.

But when the dust settled and I emerged from the wreckage, I was thrilled.

Although the results of my own DNA test, which I had taken a year earlier, were odd, they didn’t set off alarm bells. I knew my mother’s ancestors were British, and my father, a first generation American, was the child of Russian Jews. I was also aware that ethnicity results are broad and refer to migration patterns going back centuries. So when the test pegged my heritage as largely English and Italian, I took that as evidence my paternal ancestors were Iberian and, thus, Sephardic Jews, as some in the family believed.

While I’d always felt like an interloper in my family, I didn’t for a minute think I actually was one. I chalked up my lifelong impression of having been switched at birth or spawned by aliens to anxiety, imagination or the desire for a more appealing gene pool.

Don’t misunderstand: I’d won the dad lottery. I adored my dad. He was fun and playful—the dad all my friends wished was theirs. He loved generously and unfailingly and was devoted to me and my brother. His pride in me seemed to be the scaffolding of his life, even if he took all the credit, never missing an opportunity to crow, “It’s all in the genes!”

While there was no logical reason to believe it—and plenty of logical reasons not to—I grew up certain I had no idea who I was, that my story was inaccurate, that I was somehow inauthentic or fraudulent. The identity that was given me was like a pair of shoes two sizes too small. My name, better suited to a wizened crone in a babushka than a little girl in Buster Browns, didn’t suit me and the sound grated on me. I named every doll I had Kathy, the name I thought should have been mine.

When I was an infant, my mother had abandoned me and my brother, who was the result of an affair she’d had with a married man two years prior to meeting my dad. She was the troubled, restless child of a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father and had been out on the streets since she was 16. My dad loved her and she loved him, but her love of horse-racing and gambling was more compelling. After she left, my dad adopted her son and raised us on his own.

It was easy enough to explain feeling like a misfit. If I had little in common with my relatives, I convinced myself it was because I took after the mother I’d never known, the one I yearned and searched for. And when gut feelings of being misplaced among strangers gnawed at me, I only had to look in the mirror at my untamable curly hair, a trait I share with my dad, or at my knocked knees, which surely were a variation of a birth defect we called “the family knee,” to see there was no way I had been adopted.

In late middle age, after searching for decades, I caught the trail of my mother by stumbling upon her obituary. I found and reunited—or rather united—with six half-siblings, who were listed in that text as her sole survivors, the children of a later marriage between my mother and another horse racing aficionado. They welcomed me and my older brother with love and enthusiasm and finding them brought a sense of belonging I’d never experienced. 

At family reunions, when we talked about the secrets and lies that had kept us apart, one of my sisters-in-law often speculated that some of my six siblings might have had different fathers. It was true they didn’t much resemble each other, and she repeated it so often that I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

I didn’t really believe it was possible that my dad wasn’t my father, but I indulged the spawned-by-aliens scenarios of my youth and asked my 90-year-old dad if he’d take a DNA test “just for fun.” Despite my inklings, I felt torpedoed when he turned out to be 97 percent Eastern European Jewish, sharing zero DNA with me.

I only had to look at my non-British DNA matches—Sicilians with names like Giuseppe, Giovanna, Catarina, and Domenica, and Catholics according to baptismal certificates—to know my tribe wasn’t Sephardic Jews.

Once my heart came back to a normal rhythm, I called the testing company. My voice quaking, I asked if a mistake could have been made. But I knew, deep down, there’d been no mistake.

Assuming I was distraught, the woman taking my call confirmed that the results were correct, her tone suggesting that she was sorry for my loss. But she misunderstood the nature of the loss. I hadn’t lost my dad. That could never happen. She also couldn’t know how much I ultimately would gain.

As I continued to stare at my dad’s test results, blinking dumbly, a crowd of feelings bloomed at once: confusion, anger, disbelief, and a sense of rudderless. But the one thing I didn’t feel—that I thought I should have felt—was sad. My excitement and gladness over the fact that my gene pool had been drained and refilled seemed a betrayal of the person who loved me most, had always loved me, and whom I loved equally. Even when he drove me nuts.

If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that secrets are corrosive. Still, I never told my dad before he died last year. Perhaps I would have if I’d discovered this secret much earlier, but he was 91 years old, and there was nothing to be gained from stripping him of the role that was his greatest joy in life. Although he told me years before that he couldn’t be sure my mother hadn’t been unfaithful, I’m convinced he never knew I wasn’t his child.

Soon, all I could think about was my other father and whether I’d ever know who he was. I’d solved a half-century mystery about my mother and felt more whole than I ever had. Suddenly I had two absent, unknown parents and new and bigger mystery to unravel: Who am I now? The question haunted me. The year-and-a-half of obsessive sleuthing it took to identify my now deceased biological father was nearly paralyzing.

After following the DNA clues, getting a close cousin match, and putting together the puzzle pieces, I learned that my great grandparents had arrived from Sicily around the turn of the century, became farmers in New Jersey, and had four sons and a daughter. But I had no idea which of their children was my paternal grandparent.

Much later, when another close cousin match turned up, it became clear that the daughter, who had died during childbirth, was my grandmother. It all began to make sense when my cousins told me that her son, like my mother, followed the horses and was a problem gambler. No doubt they met at the races. 

It wasn’t the only time my mother was unfaithful. While my parents’ divorce was being finalized—when I was 1 year old—they briefly got back together, but soon split again. Not long after she left, my mother informed my dad that she was pregnant with his child. Yet again they flirted with the idea of a reunion, but it never happened.

My dad never saw the child but agreed to sign papers allowing my mother to put her up for adoption. Only last year, DNA led me to find that sister, whose father, it turns out, was not my dad. Additionally, after taking a harder look at the DNA results of the oldest of the six siblings I’d discovered, I realized that the man she knew as her dad wasn’t her father either.

After additional DNA matches emerged, I eventually confirmed who my biological father was and found his family through Facebook. I was fortunate that some, but not all, were receptive, and those I went on to meet have been a joy. But it’s a joy tinged with regret, since I can’t help but wonder what it might have been like to have been raised among these warm, happy, hilarious, family-loving Italians, instead of the humorless, melancholy Russians who seemed so unfamiliar in my youth. I can’t help but imagine, for good or for bad, who I might have been if I’d only known who I was.

I have to admit that the months between learning my dad wasn’t my father and finding out who was might be described as a trek through temporary insanity. On this side of that journey, of course, it’s clear my dad is my only father. My love for him only seems stronger knowing it isn’t just an expression of filial affection and loyalty, but something much stronger. He earned it through pure goodness, unselfishness and unconditional love.

In the aftermath of my DNA surprise, there’s grief to be sure—for the years without a true sense of self; for the family members never met; for the other life unlived. But spitting into a tube has given me one of the greatest gifts of my life—my truth.

I’ve seen the faces of my father, my grandparents and my great grandparents. I’ve traced their lineage through centuries. I know where I come from, and I no longer feel as if I’m somehow broken or misplaced.

Deconstructing and reconstructing my identity will be a work in progress, and learning not to spend too much time on “What if?” will take time. But as a result of a DNA test, I’m feeling more myself these days.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Parents of Dead West Point Cadet Can Use His Sperm to Create His Child, Judge Rules

The parents of a West Point cadet who died in March — who say that he dreamed of becoming a father — can use his frozen sperm to create his child, a judge ruled. Cadet Peter Zhu, 21, was pronounced brain-dead on Feb. 27 after a skiing accident on the military academy’s campus in New York. He was kept alive until March 1 because he was an organ donor, and during those two days his parents decided to petition the state to allow them to retrieve his sperm before they removed his organs. The Zhus  said in their initial court filing, according to the New York Times, that his dream was to own a ranch with horses and have five children, and this was their only way of making a portion of it come true after his death.

“Without obtaining sperm from Peter’s body, we will never be able to help Peter realize this dream of bringing a child into the world,” they said. “This is our one and only chance of fulfilling Peter’s wishes and preserving his incredible legacy.”

They also argued that they wanted to do this for “deeply personal cultural reasons,” as Peter is the only son born to the Zhu family and the one chance at carrying on their name.

“When Peter was born, his grandfather cried tears of joy that a son was born to carry on our family’s name,” the Zhus said. “Peter took this role very seriously, and fully intended to carry on our family’s lineage through children of his own.”

After Justice John P. Colangelo agreed to the parents’ petition, doctors at Westchester Medical Center extracted Peter’s sperm to freeze for later use.

For more of the article hit here

Thursday, July 18, 2019

DNA from medieval Crusader skeletons suggests surprising diversity

DNA suggests Crusaders intermarried with local people, and their sons also fought.

European soldiers and civilians poured into the Levant in the 12th and 13th centuries, often killing or displacing local Muslim populations and establishing their own settlements in an effort to seize control of sites sacred to three major religious groups.

But in a new study, DNA from the skeletons of nine soldiers hints that the armies of the Crusades were more diverse and more closely linked with local people in Lebanon than historians previously assumed. The genetic evidence suggests that the Crusaders also recruited from among local populations, and European soldiers sometimes married local women and raised children, some of whom may have grown up to fight in later campaigns.

Living and dying side by side
For centuries, the mingled, charred bones of at least 25 soldiers lay buried in two mass graves near the ruins of the Castle of St. Louis, a 12th- to 13th-century Crusader stronghold near Sidon, in south Lebanon. Several of the skeletons (all apparently male) bore the marks of violent death, and the artifacts mingled with the bones—buckles of medieval European design, along with a coin minted in Italy in 1245 to commemorate the Crusades—mark the pit's occupants as dead Crusader soldiers, burned and buried in the aftermath of a battle. From nine of them, geneticist Marc Haber and his colleagues at the Wellcome Sanger Institute obtained usable DNA sequences, which offer a rare look into the ranks of the soldiers who fought on one side of the 200-year series of wars.

Before becoming the namesake of the largest metro area in Missouri, French King Louis IX led the Seventh Crusade, a final (and ultimately failed) push by European forces to wrest control of Syria and Lebanon from Muslim rulers based in Egypt. In 1253, Louis' forces suffered a major defeat at Sidon, and the king himself arrived on the scene a few days after the battle. Accounts from the time describe Louis personally piling soldiers' decomposing remains into mass graves in the aftermath. Whether he really did that is unclear, of course. But it's reasonably likely—based on the date of the coin and radiocarbon dating of material from the pits—that these skeletons could be the remains of some of those men.

“We see this exceptional genetic diversity in the Near East during medieval times.”
It appears the soldiers were a more diverse group than many historians supposed. When Haber and his colleagues compared the DNA sequences to databases of modern DNA samples from around the world, three of the dead Crusaders closely resembled modern Europeans: two were most likely of Spanish ancestry, and one was most likely Sardinian. Four of the Crusaders' genomes closely resembled those of modern Lebanese people and DNA samples from the bones of people who lived in Lebanon under the Roman Empire around 2,000 years ago. That suggests local people had joined the Crusades, which lines up well with historical accounts of local Christians becoming soldiers, officers, and knights in the Crusader forces.

"It wasn't just Europeans," Haber said in a statement to the press. "We see this exceptional genetic diversity in the Near East during medieval times, with Europeans, Near Easterners, and mixed individuals fighting in the Crusades and living and dying side by side."

Generations of fighting
If you used statistical analysis to group the most similar genomes together (which is exactly what Haber and his colleagues did), the three European soldiers would cluster together in one group, and the four Lebanese soldiers would form another. But the other two soldiers would fall somewhere in the middle, which suggests that they may have been the children of Europeans and Near Eastern people.

To get more information about the two soldiers' ancestry, Haber and his colleagues looked at DNA sequences from their Y chromosomes. Because that particular set of DNA is usually passed directly from father to son, it's possible to trace paternal lineages through Y-chromosome DNA the same way that maternal lineages can be traced through mitochondrial DNA. The three Europeans' Y-chromosome DNA fell into groups of lineages usually associated with European ancestry. So did the two soldiers with mixed ancestry. Mitochondrial DNA, which passes only from mother to child, was less clear: the two soldiers' mitochondrial genomes both fell into a group that's common all over Europe and the Near East.

That seems to suggest that these two soldiers both had European fathers and Near Eastern mothers, but it's also possible that their parents came from mixed ancestries themselves; there's no way to say for sure based on the DNA evidence. Either way, it underscores how long the Crusades lasted. It's one thing to say that the Crusades were a 200-year series of conflicts, but it's another to realize that a wave of European migrants to the Levant intermarried with local people. Their children—and perhaps their children's children—apparently grew up to fight in the next round of warfare.

Ghosts of the past
But although hundreds of thousands of Europeans fought and settled in the Levant from 1095 to 1291, there's no trace of European ancestry in the genomes of the people living in Lebanon today. In fact, Haber and his colleagues compared the genomes of modern Lebanese people with DNA extracted from the bones of people who lived near Mt. Lebanon between 237 and 632 CE, when the area was part of the Roman Empire. It turned out that they hadn't changed very much. Today's Lebanese people are clearly descended from the people who have lived in the area since the Bronze Age, with little trace of the temporary European invaders.

"If you look at the genetics of people who lived during the Roman period and the genetics of people who are living today, you would think that there was just this continuity," Haber said in a statement. "You would miss that, for a certain period of time, the population of Lebanon included Europeans and people with mixed ancestry."

Haber and his colleagues suggest that the interaction between groups during the Crusades didn't last long enough or happen at a large enough scale to leave a genetic trace 800 years later. The genetic traces of such brief encounters, they say, tend to get diluted over time. That suggests that, while looking at modern people's genomes can reveal some things about our large-scale shared human story, many events may go missing. That's why looking at ancient DNA from the remains of people who lived closer in time to these events can tell us things that modern DNA can't. And that can help fill in gaps in written history.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ancestry website is accused of selling users' DNA data

Genealogy website is accused of selling users' DNA data to pharmaceutical companies after signing a $300million deal with giant GSK

  • 23andme clients send in saliva samples for genetic testing by scientists
  • The company has allegedly sold clients' data after to 'big pharma' firm GSK
  • Expert has 'concern' for what companies would do with personal information

For many it is simply a novel way to find out more about the ancestors.

But a neuroscientist has raised concerns over popular DNA-testing sites, warning firms are selling off customers' personal data to third parties.

Dr Hannah Critchlow said data gathered by companies charging up to £149 for ancestry tests could potentially be 'manipulated' before being sold on.

And she flagged up one firm in particular, 23andme, which last year sold on clients' DNA data to a large pharmaceutical company.

Addressing an audience at the Hay Festival, Dr Critchlow, from the University of Cambridge, said: 'Really worryingly, you might have heard of a company called 23andme where people pay to give their DNA away to a company and it will sequence that DNA.

'Then it might make some very vague biological predictions. What this company has done very recently is it has gone on and sold all your DNA data to a pharmaceutical company.'

She said the pharmaceutical firm had 'obviously paid quite a lot of money for this', adding that many 'positive things' could spring from data being sold on.

'You can get more personalised medicine from it. Hopefully you'll be able to find new treatments for people that might have been suffering otherwise because there was no tailored treatment available to them,' she said.

For more of this article, hit here

Understanding what is on the census

The Census
If you are looking for family information, it's important to understand what is available in the census, and when. This is from the Census Bureau website.

Age and sex, 1790-present (but only for free Whites until 1820)
Slave status, 1790-1860
Color or race, 1790-present (see section below)
Citizenship, 1820-1830, 1870, 1890-present
Physical or mental handicap, 1830-1930, 1970-present
Education or literacy, 1840 present
Marital status, 1880-present
Occupation, 1850-present
Industry, 1820, 1840, 1910-present
Employment status, 1880-present (except 1920)
Crime, 1850-1910
Mortality, 1850-1890
Place of birth, 1850-present
Wage rates, 1850-1890
Income, 1940-present
Pauperism, 1850-1860, 1880-1890, 1910
Prisoners, 1880-1910
Institutionalized persons, 1880- 1890, 1910
Year of immigration, 1890-1930, 1970-present
Number of children ever born, 1890- 1910, 1940-1990
Language (or whether the person could speak English), 1890-1940, 1960-present
Language of parents, 1910-1920
Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent, 1970-present
 In the 20th century, interest focused as well on people’s economic characteristics—their jobs and how they traveled to work, their income, and how well they were housed. Most of these questions are asked on a sample basis.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Privacy concerns don't stop people from putting their DNA on the internet to help solve crimes

Americans are embracing the use of DNA databases to solve crimes.

Over the past year DNA submitted to ancestry websites have helped police in the United States identify the killers in several unsolved crimes, including the Golden State Killer case – a longtime subject of internet sleuthing.

The practice has raised some concerns about police access to the genetic profiles of millions of Americans, with some privacy advocates demanding that courts prohibit this investigative tactic.

But those offered the chance to participate actively in the drama of criminal justice often find privacy to be of little concern, my research shows.

People love a good cold case. California police used the genealogy website GEDmatch to check DNA from dozens of murders and rapes committed by the Golden State Killer from 1976 to 1986, leading to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in April 2018.

DNA submissions to GEDmatch – a public source of user-submitted DNA profiles created to help genealogy hobbyists investigate their family trees – have steadily increased since, founder Curtis Rogers told me.

About a thousand new profiles are uploaded to GEDmatch every day, Rogers says. The site contains over 1.2 million user-submitted DNA kits.

All users who opt in to its public portal are alerted that their DNA information may be searched by law enforcement agencies investigating a crime or seeking to identify a deceased person.

In Rogers’ experience, that possibility excites, rather than concerns, many customers. He routinely receives emails from people who want to post their DNA profile to GEDmatch “so they can assist in catching criminals, including those who might be family members, so that any unsolved cases can be solved, and families involved can get closure.”

CeCe Moore – perhaps the best known scientist in the burgeoning field of genetic genealogy – sees similar sentiments on the popular Facebook page where she posts updates on recently solved cases.

“They want to be part of solving this,” she told me, “They are web sleuths – and perhaps their DNA could be key to cracking a case.”

Moore works with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company that builds the family tree of DNA found at a crime scene to help police identify suspects.

“People ask us all the time, how can I get my DNA to a place where you guys can solve cases?” Parabon CEO Steve Armentrout told me.

The ethics of public DNA
Home DNA kits are only the latest technology to dramatically increase public participation in monitoring, preventing and even solving crimes.

Websites like NextDoor have taken the neighborhood watch concept – when neighbors work together to prevent crime – online. The app Citizen alerts civilians about 911 calls to crimes underway in their vicinity and allows them to upload video of the incident. And over 700,000 people frequent the cold case discussions on Reddit, an online message board.

Amateur sleuths may jump at the chance of their DNA helping to catch a killer, but there are good reasons to pause and take stock of the ethical concerns raised by this practice.

By the end of 2018, 26 million people had taken an at-home ancestry test with 23andMe, Ancestry.com or similar sites, the MIT Technology Review found.

But you’re not just uploading your own DNA when you put it on one of these sites. You’re uploading the DNA of relatives, both close and distant.

That exposes many millions of people who have never taken a DNA test to possible police identification, raising tricky due process questions.

As more people are swept into genetic databases without their explicit consent, more sensitive personal information will effectively become public. Some day, these genetic profiles could be used by employers or insurance companies to assess the health of individuals, leading to discrimination and stigmatization.

‘I want him caught’
Making one’s DNA available to law enforcement agencies can also create problems of a more intimate nature: Namely, if a suspect is caught because of your DNA, that person is technically part of your biological family. You may become responsible for putting your own relative in jail.

A screenshot of the Facebook page of the prominent genetic genealogist CeCe Moore. Facebook
The genetic genealogist Cece Moore finds that doesn’t deter people.

“They want murderers and rapists and serial killers off the street,” she says of the people who talk to her about contributing their DNA to GEDMatch or similar sites. “These people are willing to make sacrifices for that to happen.”

The logic she often hears, Moore says, is: “If my second cousin is a serial killer, I want him caught. I want people to pay for these crimes even if its someone I am close to or I love.”

To read more of the article hit here

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Old Spanish Trail Association dedication at the San Gabriel Mission, San Gabriel, California, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 11:00 am.

Old Spanish Trail Association dedication at the San Gabriel Mission, San Gabriel, California, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, 11:00 am.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The hidden dangers of DNA-based holidays The collaboration aims to provide “heritage” holidays – and gives a free pass to unscientific ideas.

  • The hidden dangers of Airbnb’s partnership with DNA-testing ancestry company 23andMe
  • The collaboration aims to provide “heritage” holidays – and gives a free pass to unscientific ideas. 

Direct-to-consumer DNA-testing company 23andMe recently announced a new partnership with travel website Airbnb to generate holiday locations based on peoples’ ancestry. Travelling to the idyllic corner of France where your great-grandparents once lived is harmless enough, but giving this information over to a privately held technology company feels like an outtake from Black Mirror.

While methodologies and levels of accuracy can vary wildly across DNA-testing companies, the basic premise remains the same. You send off for a kit, and supply your DNA through a cheek swab or a sample of saliva. The sample is sent to a lab for sequencing, where its genetic information is extracted. This information is relayed to the customer, often displayed in the form of percentages and pie charts.

According to Airbnb, “heritage travel” is a growing industry. Yet partnerships like this make troubling leaps. Ancestry, heritage and genetics have often intersected with bogus ideas about race. Academics have previously raised concerns that commercial DNA-testing may reify the idea that racial differences are biologically founded rather than socially ascribed. The dangerous junk science that grounds race in biological difference has been used historically to establish the superiority of one group of people over another – and is currently finding a renewed audience among far-right groups.

For more info hit here

Genealogy Garage July 20, 2019 Announcement

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Startup offering free DNA sequencing signs first pharma sponsor - STAT

The genome-sequencing startup Nebula Genomics has signed up its first biopharma partner, the San Francisco-based company announced on Tuesday, a step toward realizing an unusual business model it calls “sponsored sequencing”: Customers can have their full genome sequenced for free if they let Nebula share their (anonymized) DNA and other data with corporate partners, with blockchain technology assuring data privacy.

The partnership with EMD Serono, the biopharmaceutical arm of the German chemicals and pharma giant Merck KGaA, is a pilot program to test Nebula’s technology and platform, said Nebula chief scientific officer Dennis Grishin. “But we hope it will help drive interest from other potential partners” that believe they can use DNA data to drive drug development, he added. If a particular DNA variant seems to be associated with, say, epilepsy, that gene or its downstream products might be a drug target.

For more info hit here

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Southern California Genealogical Society's Open House, Saturday, July 13, 2019 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, Burbank, California.

Southern California Genealogical Society's Open House, Saturday, July 13, 2019 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, Burbank, California.

GSHA-SC will be represented by Leonard Trujillo and Dr. Sunny McMullen. Please stop by and see the library.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Think twice before giving results of your home DNA kit to the police

DNA testing company FamilyTreeDNA is urging consumers to share genetic information with law enforcement, promising that the data could help solve crimes. More than 26 million people have used consumer genetic tests to learn about their ancestry, connect with family members, and identify health risks. They should think twice before making themselves and their relatives unanticipated subjects in a criminal lineup.

When used appropriately, technology can provide substantial benefits to law enforcement agencies, victims, and society. Genetic testing of crime scene DNA evidence — a technique utilized by police since the 1980s — can be a powerful tool to catch criminals and exonerate innocent suspects. But powerful tools require powerful safeguards, and FamilyTreeDNA is inviting consumers to submit sensitive personal data to a system that lacks basic privacy protections.

Last year, FamilyTreeDNA struck a secret deal with the FBI, permitting the Bureau to search for matches between the company’s database of genetic information and DNA collected from crime scenes. Users who upload their genetic data to FamilyTreeDNA might be surprised to learn that the company permits the FBI to search for matches without a warrant, that crime scene forensics are fallible, and that giving police access to genetic profiles can put innocent individuals — and their relatives — in the crosshairs of a criminal investigation.

The FamilyTreeDNA agreement is inconsistent with consumer expectations. Leading genetics companies like 23andMe, Ancestry, Helix, Habit, and others worked with the Future of Privacy Forum to publicly endorse policies that genetic data should not be disclosed to government agencies without a warrant. These companies take legal and technical measures to prevent police from accessing consumers’ DNA profiles without legal process. Not all companies are as transparent and might have secretly entered into agreements similar to the FamilyTreeDNA arrangement, but such deals are out of step with industry norms.

Warrant requirements are a longstanding mechanism for solving crimes and protecting privacy. Warrants are issued based on evidence and typically target a specific person when a criminal predicate exists. The warrant process allows a neutral judge to determine whether there is probable cause to suspect that a particular individual is linked to a crime. These protections help prevent individuals from being erroneously swept up in criminal investigations.

Warrant protections are important safeguards, especially with regard to crime scene forensics. DNA analysis and other forensic techniques can erroneously identify innocent people. Experts agree that DNA matches, absent other evidence, are insufficient to prove an individual’s guilt. DNA samples may be misidentified, damaged through exposure to moisture or extreme temperatures, or contaminated with other DNA. Between 1993 and 2009, European police searched for a serial criminal who was linked to six murders and numerous robberies through crime scene DNA. The search ended when officials discovered that the genetic information linking the cases matched an innocent Bavarian woman. She had not committed a crime, but instead worked in a factory that produced cotton swabs used for DNA sample collection.

FamilyTreeDNA’s new media campaign raises substantial privacy and civil liberty concerns for individuals and their relatives. Users who contribute their DNA data for law enforcement scanning aren’t simply providing their own information. DNA samples can implicate anyone in a person’s genetic family tree, from close relatives to people they have never met. Some states, including Texas, have wisely restricted or banned the type of familial matching technique that could be employed by the FBI in DNA databases. These rules help prevent individuals from becoming “genetic informants” by subjecting their relatives to unwanted government scrutiny, but they have not been implemented in all states.

Individuals who have taken genetic tests should think long and hard about the consequences for them — or their relatives — before they upload their DNA information to any entity that does not have explicit policies against sharing it with law enforcement.

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Mother used DNA ancestry kit to trace real father who rejected her

Mother-of-four, 50, used DNA ancestry kit to trace her real father's identity after finding out she was the result of a secret affair only for him to reject her

  • Nicki Field sent DNA to Ancestry.co.uk to try and find her real father's identity 
  • The secondary school teacher managed to track him down but he rejected her
  • She said people 'don't realize the power of these tests' and issues they can bring

A mother-of-four who found out the identity of her biological father using a DNA kit has warned of the problems they can bring after he rejected her.

Secondary school teacher Nicki Field sent her DNA to Ancestry.co.uk after being told by her mother that the man she knew was not her father when she was 13-years-old.

The 50-year-old, from Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire, managed to track down the married father-of-four, but he refused to accept the affair with her mother or say he was his daughter.

She told The Mirror : 'It was devastating to be told that neither he, nor any of his children, with whom I share an obvious family resemblance, wanted me in their lives.

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