Ancestry.com’s leading DNA scientists participated in the 2012 American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) annual meeting. Leading DNA experts from across the country gather to present the results of the latest studies. Several scientists from Ancestry presented papers. We can see a bit of the work going on inside Ancestry by reading what they’ve said about their papers:
Pushing the boundaries: Using Haplotypes to infer ancestral origins for recently admixed individuals
This research presents new ways to look at people around the world, and continually pushes our thinking on how we determine ethnicity and population boundaries—specifically in challenging regions like Central Europe—with better data, better algorithms and better analysis.
In other words, Ancestry’s DNA scientists are working with haplotypes to make it possible for AncestryDNA to better determine the ancestral home of people with European ancestry, for example.
Using Y-chromosomes Haplotypes to improve inferred ancestral origins in European populations
In a nutshell, this abstract illustrates how predictions of geographic ethnicity for European populations using autosomal genotypes can be improved by incorporating Y-chromosome information. In fact, using Y-haplogroup distributions to redraw regional boundaries within Europe improved ethnicity predictions by up to 9%.
This description runs counter to what I thought Ancestry was trying to do when it hired these scientists. Beforehand, Ancestry offered a Y-chromosome DNA test—males only—to determine his ancestral home. I thought they hired a bunch of DNA scientists because they were trying to apply autosomal DNA to aid in that determination. This description makes it sound the opposite. It makes it sound like the results of autosomal tests are being refined—again for males only—by going back to the Y-chromosome. This is interesting considering AncestryDNA’s test continues to be available to both men and women and continues to give a full breakdown of genetic ancestry.
Genetic evidence of multiple non-Asian migrations into the new world
An analysis of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) Y-chromosome and mtDNA databases resulted in evidence for multiple migrations from the Iberian Peninsula into the New World (Mexico, Central and South America); specifically, two groups were identified—Basque males who share ancestry within the last 2000 years and a Jewish group in Mexico, which fled persecution during the Inquisition.
This study seems to have little application to Ancestry’s business. Perhaps part of the deal when Ancestry acquired Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) DNA samples was to allow some research projects like this one to continue. (One of the samples Ancestry bought from SMGF was my own. I guess the lesson there is to think twice before making a goodwill offering to a non-profit foundation, particularly when the offering is a DNA sample.)
SMGF has some very informative animations teaching more about DNA:
- Introduction to Molecular Genealogy
- Four Types of DNA
- Autosomal DNA
- X Chromosome DNA
- Y Chromosome DNA
- Mitochondrial DNA
- Mutation and Haplotype
DNA is an exciting frontier in genealogy and it is good to see Ancestry pushing the envelope.