28 October 2014

10th Annual Family Tree DNA Conference

Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld opened the Family Tree DNA Decennial Conference by recognizing all those who have attended all the conferences and those who have been project administrators for ten years. They recognized the first time attendees and a couple of new DNA books, including mine entitled Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond along with a soon-to-be published book entitled NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection by David R. Dowell.

Over 180 project administrators and co-administrators attended this year, and internationally there were representatives from Canada, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan!

Shortly after I sat down, I noticed the sconces around the room. It was very 
serendipitous that  this new venue, the Hyatt North Houston, welcomed our group in such a manner.

The following are some of the highlights at the Family Tree DNA Conference and not a day-by-day blow of the events.  Usually at some point, most of the presentations are posted on the FTDNA webpage.  However, I greatly encourage you to visit Jennifer Zinck’s blog Ancestor Central.  She did tremendous job writing as the conference occurred!  Thank you Jen for this wonderful compilation!

Consumer Genomics: The 30,000-foot View by Dr. Spencer Wells
DR. Spencer Wells, Scientist in Residence at the National Geographic Society, and head of the Genographic Project stated that there are 6,000 languages spoken in the world today and if we can understand how they are related, we can more clearly understand how the people who use those languages are related.  The isolated populations which tend to be less mixed with other populations are the key to understanding these connections.  He is majorly concerned about cultural extinction as by the end of the century 50-90% of the 6,000 languages will be lost through cultural assimilation.  Cultural diversity defines us as a people, and once lost, it is gone forever.  Some cultures have been instrumental in plant knowledge which has helped doctors create medicines. Each culture has a great value to the make-up of our species.

Currently the National Genogrphic Project has 75,000 indigenous testers and 625,000 public participants. He reported that genetic sequencing is moving five times faster than Moore’s Law would predict.  That’s five times faster than technology, and we all know the evolution of the iPhone has not been slow!

For the future, Geno 3.0 is coming and a new SNP chip.  Spencer predicted that in a few years the whole genome sequencing will be $100 as it is really cheap with the X10 machine. National Genographic is continuing to collect indigenous samples and is planning a trip to Southeast Asia next year.

AND, his fourth book The Ghost of Genghis Khan is in the works.  Privately Spencer stated to me that he considers his greatest work to be the discovery of Genghis Khan’s DNA.  I can’t wait to read the book!

Ancient and Modern DNA Update:  How many ancestral populations for Europeans? By Dr. Michael Hammer
Dr. Michael Hammer, a research scientist in the ARL Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona, also holds appointments in the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as well as being the Director of the University of Arizona Genetics Core facility.  He pioneered the use of the Y-chromosome as a genealogical tool and is actually responsible for Bennett and Max starting Family Tree DNA.

My favorite presentation, Dr. Hammer updated the audience on last year’s discoveries.  At that time only three archaeological sites were being explored in Europe, but now there are fifteen sites and eighteen fully sequenced genomes for ancient DNA.  From this research there are three main European Ancestral components:
  • West European Hunter-Gatherers (WHG) – based on an 8,000 year-old genome from Loschbour, Luxembourg.  This population includes the Swedish hunter-gatherers and a Mesolitic individual from the La Brana Cave in Spain.
  • Early European Farmers (EEF) – based on a 75,000 genome form Stuttgart, Germany which belongs to the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture.  This population includes Oetzi the Iceman and a Neolithic Funnelbeaker farmer from Sweden.
  • Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) – based on the 24,000 year-old genome from Mal’ta Siberia.  This population includes a Mal’ta boy as well as the late Upper Paleolithic sample from Central Siberia called Afontova Gora-2.  Mal’ta boy (MA1) is genetically similar to Native Americans.
Dr. Hammer mentioned that all Europeans are a mixture of the three populations.  He further stated that Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) are equally distributed across Europe including the British Isles and that the hunter-gathers (WHG) probably had blue eyes and dark skin.  The Early European Farmers (EEF) had dark eyes with lighter skin.  These findings so far indicate that Haplogroup I was pre-agriculture and that Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) are haplogroup G2 in southern France, Spain, Northern Italy and North Germany as well as Haplogroup I in France and Haplogroup E in Spain.  There was no R1b at this point, and G2 dominated at this time. It is clear that the R1b haplogroup is relatively new as most samples from the more ancient times in Europe were G and I so far. 

DNA Ethics: Why we can’t cover our eyes by Dr. Blaine Bettinger
Blaine is an intellectual property attorney.  His blog The Genetic Genealogist is definitely worth following.  Blaine spoke on ethics a topic that causes genetic genealogists much angst. In the past we have had speakers who were neither genealogists nor genetic genealogists trying to tell us what is right or wrong.  Blaine used the best approach yet!  He stated there is no right or wrong, but just “best practice” with the goal of reducing negative publicity and to do things ethically.  He suggested that our job as administrators or anyone asking for someone’s DNA should be to educate the person and to be sure they read the “terms of use.” Explain that NPE (No the Parent Expected) can be possible as 1-3% of those testing typically have an NPE. Let them know that if they do not want to know the truth, then maybe they should not test as ancient and recent family secrets could be revealed.
He spoke about getting informed consent and not promising what cannot be delivered including the guarantee of anonymity.  He mentioned that standards will probably be developed as practical guidelines to help us.

Family Finder (How to Succeed with atDNA) by Jim Bartlett
Jim Bartlett simplified the process of finding common ancestors for autosomal DNA in four steps.  His steps:
            1.  Get Ready by developing a robust Ancestral Tree and a standard email message
            2.  Communicate by sharing your lineage with every match and determine the common ancestors
            3.  Use a spreadsheet to track matches and segments
            4.  Triangulate three or more matches

To see my version of this, view my Dublin presentation at BTOP (Back to Our Past) entitled: Emily Aulicino - Who’s Your Cousin? atDNA Knows! at http://tinyurl.com/lz4u773

Discovering and Verifying your Ancestry using Family Finder by Dr. Tim Janzen
Tim, a family practices doctor in Portland, Oregon, runs a Mennonite project and has given many presentation in the US and Canada.  He stressed the importance of testing as many cousins as possible to help with autosomal triangulation.  He mentioned that endogenous populations can appear closer than they really are, so be aware and look to further generations.  He encouraged everyone to create cousin clusters so that can be used to compare matches you are new to you. Tim encouraged the use of GEDmatch, a third party tool, and gave a few statistics, such as the 4th cousin level on average is about 14cM. Tim sites the following centimorgans (cM) which can be Identical by Descent (IBD) or inherited:
5-6 cM can be 50% IBD
7-8 cm can be 50% IBD
11-12cM you see very little if any IBS (Identical by State*)

 *IBS segments are segments that are handed down for generations unmixed or segments which are too common in a haplogroup. Both situations make it difficult to impossible to determine a common ancestor.

Y-DNA Marker Tables, Mutation Graphs and Ancestral Trees: Useful Techniques for Family Genealogy by Robert Barber
Robert Baber had an excellent statement in his presentation:  Our ancestors never completely died.  They continue to live in our DNA.
            He focused on building a mutational graph and converting it to a genealogical tree.  In order to do so you must know the common ancestor at the top and understand the mutation rates of the specific markers.

ISOGG Meeting
Katherine Borges, director of ISOGG, gave a historical view of the organization and presented Bennett and Max with a plaque of appreciation for their work over the last ten years.

Y-Tree tidbits
Alice Fairhurst mentioned a few current statistics for the Y-SNP tree.  Amazing how popular the
ISOGG tree is in academia, and it is very apparent that Alice'a Crew is doing it right!
  • Over two million hits in six months
  • Most viewed pages were the SNP Index and Haplogroups R, I, E, N, J, and G
  • The tree was viewed from all continents and by universities and genetic laboratories.

Big Y Predictions for the future
  • New products like the Deep Clade 2.0 panel will be made possible by Y-chromosome sequencing and research
  • Read lengths could improve: Illumina is migrating the HiSeq platform to 250bp (base pairs) reads and there are plans to grow to 40bp reads.
  • Technologies such as PacBio and Oxford Naopore promise read length in 1 to 10 kb range
  • Eventually it will make sense to sequence entire genomes instead of the Y-chromosome.

Deep Clade tests
As it is becoming impossible to predict haplogroups even with a Y-111 and especially for some R haplogroups, new Deep Clade panels will be constructed by those working with the haplogroups.  These panels can contain 50-60 SNPs and will be priced very reasonably at $1-$1.50 per SNP. Bennett stated that there could possibly 6 Deep Clades for R and the current focus is on building a SNP panel for R-M222.  Haplogroup administrators can formulate their list and submit it to FTDNA so please contact FTDNA with your list of suggestions for a Deep Clade SNP panel. This will be so much easier and cheaper than selecting individual SNPs to determine more detailed haplogroups!  YEAH!!!

Submit Suggestions
Family Tree DNA has established a link for your suggestions at:
The maximum size for your suggestion is 1,000 characters.  

Thank you FTDNA for this suggestion link.  As I have compiled a list of administrators' requests for the past two years and submitted them to the company, this releases me from my self-appointed quest! Listening to the customer's needs (including administrators) is the best thing a company can do to keep growing.  We all know that staff at FTDNA does not have the time nor experience to do what many of the administrators and testers do with all this DNA information.  Many admins have created software to assist in finding matches as well as techniques to make the process more understandable for the tester.

DNA Census
FTDNA’s buzz word for the future is their goal of creating a DNA Census and not a survey.  By testing everyone, a DNA census will be produced where spotty testing is only doing a survey. To spur the interest they have reduced the autosomal transfers from 23andMe and AncestryDNA to $39 or by getting four people to look at transferring, you get your transfer FREE. 

Encourage everyone to test and those who have at other companies to transfer their results to FTDNA.  In doing so, they will be able to fish in more ponds as each database is different.  This means more matches for everyone and a higher likelihood of finding more recent cousins.  What a great benefit for adoptees as well!

Free Test Result Transfers
Transfers from AncestryDNA and 23andMe (v3 chip) for either $39 or for free.  You can upload your results to FTDNA and see your top 20 matches for free, but you only get the first initial and surname.  If you pay $39 you can see your matches and their emails.  However, If you recruit four other people to transfer their test results, whether they actually pay the $39 fee or not, your upload will be free. See:  https://www.familytreedna.com/AutosomalTransfer

Searchable Family Trees
Another feature this year is a new version of the Gedcom (family trees). The reason for doing so is to implement a new search feature which will allow a person to search all public trees.  I have personally found common ancestors in the past by using the Gedcoms so this will be a great feature if more people upload their data.  You do not have to have a software program which creates a Gedcom; you can input the information on your family directly on the site.  This means, of course, that you can change, correct, add or delete information without uploading a new tree.  YEAH!

Group Project Email Lists
A function entitled myGroups will allow contact within group projects.  At this point the feature is designed for use by project administrators and their testers for particular projects.  I typically run email lists for any tester in my individual projects including men who are connected to the line but who cannot test due to a different surname and women who are related to the surname, but, of course, cannot do a Y-chromosome test so I am not sure how this will improve my particular situation, but it does allow testers to carry on a dialogue which would be of interest to many in the project.  The Alpha testing for this will begin shortly, and FTDNA is looking for volunteers to test it and help remove any bugs.  Just contact FTDNA if you are interested.

Family Tree DNA has three goals for next year:
1. Customer service and feedback
2. Listening to citizen scientists and group administrators
3. New products and features to make genetic genealogy better for genealogists

Many other grand presentations were given, but this hits the highlights. All of you will just have to become administrators of a project and join us next year for the 2015 conference!


No comments: