9th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy – Day 1

Max Blankfeld opened the conference with a welcome.  Max talked about competition making for healthy growth.  This has been the best year ever and there are great things in the pipeline. In June of this year, what started as an acquisition became something that could be a guarantee of continuity for Family Tree DNA.  Three new people have been added to staff.  Nir Leibovich is the Chief Business Officer, David Mittelman is the Chief Scientific Officer, and Jason Wang is the Chief Technology Officer leading the Engineering Department. Max got a little bit emotional as he talked about people who have been great supporters of Family Tree DNA who are no longer with us.  He stressed that he really appreciates what they brought to the company and most importantly, their friendship.  He also sent best wishes to Bill Hurst for a speedy recovery. Bennett stepped up to join Max to talk about group administrators who have been with them for 10 years or more.  Each of these group administrators will receive a plaque to honor their years of commitment. Bennett talked a bit about the lab tours.  Approximately 60 people in total have or will attend lab tours during this conference period.  Bennett shared the news about the CAP certification.  This allows the company to justify the acquisition of some expensive instruments that will be beneficial to the genealogical community. The first speaker of the day was Amy McGuire, PhD, JD, of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine, presenting Am I My Brother’s Keeper?  DNA Identifiability and Obligations to Biological Relatives in Genetic Genealogy. ...

Get your DNA test here! A tour of the Family Tree DNA Lab

It’s that time of year again!  Genetic Genealogy enthusiasts have gathered at the Sheraton North Houston for the 9th Annual International Conference on Genetic Genealogy.  This year lab tours were offered on Friday as well as Monday, which is great for those who plan to fly out on Sunday.  Bennett Greenspan, President of Family Tree DNA, welcomed our group to the lab. The lab at Family Tree DNA is a fully functional five or six day a week lab.  Our first stop was the Pre-PCR area where DNA has not been amplified.  Once DNA is amplified, it never returns to this area.  Our group put on lab coats and anyone with open-toed shoes put on booties. Bennett explained that all of the tubes have a red cap instead of the old tethered cap style.  The machine shown below automatically fills each tube with the buffer that allows the sample to sit for long periods.  The buffer arrests any potential for bacterial growth while the DNA is in the tube.  About 400 per hour can be produced by this machine. The next robot extracts approximately 600 samples per day during one normal shift.  Around Christmas time the process is doubled in order to extract 1,200 samples per day. The liquid handling robot takes DNA, puts it into a daughter plate, and puts a primer mix and a master mix in the well.  Master mix is a neutral solution and the primer mix might be for any of the Y-DNA SNPs that have to be used for a confirmation purpose. DNA samples that arrived yesterday or the day before that have not...

Not zombies, ghosts, or evil Halloween spirits

What caused the deaths of my ancestors?  Certainly not werewolves or vampires or zombies. Judy Russell spread the word that Nathan W. Murphy of  Family Search is to blame for this cadaverous compendium.  Not to be a spoil sport, I’ll play along. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’ve decided not to be a smoker.  Breathing is always a good thing unless, of course, you are a zombie. I had one great grandfather whose official cause of death was partial cremation.  He died when his truck went down an embankment and caught on fire with him trapped underneath.  Not anything like the Halloween shows on television, but I’m sure it had to be living hell to burn to death, especially if he was still...

Autosomal DNA Tests for Parents?

I have already taken an autosomal DNA test.  Should I test my parent(s)? The answer is YES!  Absolutely! Because of the random way in which autosomal DNA is inherited, each child only receives a portion of each parent’s DNA.  The child is made up of 50% from the mother and 50% from the father but if no parents are tested, matches for that other 50% of each parents’ DNA will not be represented.  That is why it is so important to test parents first, especially if funds are limited and age or health could be a factor. At Family Tree DNA, my mother has 290 Family Finder matches in the database as of today.  Applying the “in common with” filter and selecting my name, there are only 116 matches.  Of my mother’s 290 matches, my results only reflect 116 of them.  This means that 174 maternal matches would have never been discovered without testing my mother.  Applying the “in common with” between my mother and sister only yields 108 matches, which means my sister would have lost even more genetic data than I would have if my mother and I had not tested.  Keep in mind, those “in common with” match lists that my sister and I have are not identical.  We have each inherited different bits of autosomal DNA and will, therefore, have some matches in common and some different. The reason that I tested my sister is because my father is deceased.  If I had a complete set of parental autosomal DNA, I might do my own autosomal DNA test for entertainment, but there would not be a significant...

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