Greenspan of Family Tree
Interviews with people who play an important role in population genetics, forensic genetics, and genetic genealogy are presented in this feature. Suggestions for interview subjects are welcomed.
JoGG: The people who have attended the
conferences for project administrators in Houston have heard you speak about
the origin of Family Tree
BG: I was unemployed in 1999 and didn’t have
enough to keep me busy…my wife suggested that I take up my genealogy as a way
to keep me out of her kitchen. In doing
so I found not only long lost family members in the US, but I found a possible
cousin in Argentina who I wasn’t able to absolutely prove was related…I
couldn’t find the paper trail…I was at a dead end in the road. Fortunately I remembered articles on the
Cohanim and the
JoGG: FTDNA recently announced that you had now processed over a half million samples for either Y tests or mtDNA tests, which is an amazing number. Can the rate of growth that you have experienced over the last few years continue? How long will it be before we hear about a million samples processed?
BG: I’m afraid that the 1,000,000-test mark is quite a ways away. I don’t think the field is becoming less popular, but the curious have already tested…now it’s going to be a little more difficult since the early adaptors have already tested--so the resistance level is going to be a bit higher in the future.
JoGG: You have recently put a lot of resources into
automating the lab in
JoGG: In regard to the “Walk Through the Y” or WTY project, you are sequencing about 100,000 bases of the Y chromosome for dozens of participants in many haplogroups in order to discover new SNPs that might be useful for phylogenetic purposes. How is that project coming along and what will it mean for our community?
BG: We have been talking about ways to ‘bust’ through the Y chromosome for a few years. We are offering to phylogenetically interesting people the opportunity to run 100kB in an attempt to find new SNP’s. The results range from none to three new SNP’s discovered in a single sample. We have accepted about 110 orders and have completed about 20 of these so far (in July 2009).
JoGG: Full genome sequencing (FGS) for mtDNA is becoming a more common occurrence at FTDNA. About how many FGS orders have you filled at FTDNA?
BG: We have been offering the sequencing of the full mitochondrion molecule for about 3 years but in the past year it has really taken off. We have several hundred in process now and have completed over 5200, plus we regularly get requests from universities around the world to run these since we have created a pipeline especially designed to process large numbers of these in a relatively short period of time.
JoGG: Many of the FGS sequences have been uploaded to GenBank and are available for researchers to use. Does FTDNA do the uploading on request, or does the customer have to take care of that themselves? How many FGS sequences that were generated at FTDNA have been uploaded to GenBank?
BG: FTDNA feels that it’s the customer’s responsibility to upload his/her own data to Genbank, but we provide the FASTA file and others have created somewhat easy ways to do the uploading. We think that about 600 FTDNA samples are in Genbank already.
JoGG: I notice that some of the mtDNA research articles coming out now have mentioned that some of the FGS sequences they have used for their studies have come from FTDNA. While the FTDNA sequences are not coming from a controlled population, it would seem that phylogenetic studies would be quite willing to use such privately generated data. How do you see the FTDNA sequences being used?
BG: More universities are having FTDNA do the FGS for their studies, and in addition we have a policy of asking our FGS clients if they want their results placed into a repository that researchers can ‘tap,’ anonymously, to bulk up the FGS samples. In addition we are quite keen to help the semi-professional community with recruitment for projects that are important but haven’t reached the eyes of the academic community yet. Just because the academics aren’t interested, our clients’s research should NOT suffer!
JoGG: Do you see some of the examples that we have discussed as a part of a growing partnership between the “amateur” and “professional” genetics communities?
BG: I think that anytime the academics will listen to what is actually being found by the semi-professionals that they have to reflect on just how active a customer base we have. The academics are few in number and don’t have the resources that the general community does, so it’s not really surprising that the semi-professionals are in some areas taking a commanding lead in research and knowledge. FTDNA is pleased to be part of that effort, be it via the Walk The Y project or in our focus on the FGS mitochondria profiling.
JoGG: At the present time, Y-
BG: Yes and Yes.
JoGG: As you are aware, JoGG published an
article by John Butler of NIST, and also published an editorial, in the Fall
2008 issue on the subject of standardization of Y-
BG: Since Family Tree
JoGG: Will the reporting of microalleles be retroactive, or will they only be reported for tests completed after the change to your database structure?
BG: Glad you brought that up. We will obtain an entirely new refresh to the
Y database for all samples ever sent to us from
JoGG: What else does the future hold for genetic
genealogy? There has been a gradual
downward trend in price for your standard orders. Will that continue? What kind of
BG: I just can’t answer this—it’s always problematic to announce possible future product developments, both for competitive reasons and the fact that the best laid plans don’t always work out.
JoGG: There seems to be an increasing call in some quarters for more regulation of the genetic genealogy field. Do you think any kind of regulation is needed? Do you see regulation as a threat to the way you do business?
BG: If the call is intended to stop people
getting a peek at their
JoGG: In addition to your “official” position at FTDNA, you are also the project administrator for several projects. How’s that going? Have you established any connections with any famous Greenspans?
BG: If I were a cobbler I’d have lots of holes in my shoes…the Greenspan project has not reflected the same level of success as most of our clients’s projects.