March 5th, 2014

Is Your Family a Branch on the World’s Biggest Family Tree?

Yaniv Erlich is a computational biologist, but he is also the world’s most renowned “genome hacker.” He has conducted many experiments over the years to prove that the identities of those who participate in genetic research can be uncovered by cross-referencing the DNA data with that available in the public domain. He has now constructed the world’s largest family tree containing information on thirteen million individuals. Scientists will use the data to analyze how genetic traits such as facial features and longevity are inherited.

There is no danger of anyone in the family tree having their identity revealed however, as Erlich and his team will conceal the identities of those involved. Unfortunately that means you won’t know if you and your family line are among those included, but if you have ever participated in genetic research, and that includes having had a DNA test to trace your ancestry, there is a good chance that you are.

Fortunately all of that information will be put to good use, even providing valuable information on population expansion and demographics. The best part of course if that the data may one day be able to provide important medical information.

Digging Deep

Your pedigree can provide valuable clues about your genetic inheritance. The farther down your family line your DNA is compared to that of one of your ancestors, the more accurately scientists can determine just how deeply rooted in your DNA your genetic traits are based. They can even determine whether those traits are dictated by a few genes that are extremely influential, or by many smaller genes that have a minor influence.

Because it would take decades to assemble so much data from so many individuals, Erlich and his team “borrowed” the data from over forty million profiles on the website. All of the information they gathered was in individual profiles, and included birth and death dates, event locations, and even the occasional photograph. That data was then formed into family trees, some only containing a few thousand individuals, the largest thirteen million.

The exact use of all of this genetic and genealogical information has not yet been determined, though it is enthusiastically supported by members of the scientific community. The marriage of genealogy and genetics is still in the infant stage, but as more and more people become willing to share their genealogical data and their DNA, the possibilities are tremendous!