Friday, January 26, 2018

Another Genealogical Tool For African Americans: Ancestry Painting Of Your Genome

(Booker Rising ) Research into the genetic causes of disease have been overwhelmingly done only on majority-European populations. For example, a 2009 review found that just 4% of the participants in published genome-wide association studies had non-European ancestry. 23AndMe (which I was unaware about until yesterday) is trying to change the game. They currently only have 1,000 African-American samples in their database(or 1.2% of their total database), even though black Americans are 13% of the U.S. population. As a comparison, they have 56,000 samples of mostly Northern European ancestry, 3,500 Hispanic samples, and 3,400 South Asian samples). Part of this gap is cost ($400 for a test). However, many (most?) African Americans who get such tests instead use African Ancestry’s service (which has 25,000+ samples). People also probably don’t know about 23AndMe’s services either.

As Booker Rising mentioned yesterday, 23AndMe is teaming up with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Dr. Rick Kittles (from PBS’ “African American Lives” series) and Harvard University in order to test 10,000 African Americans and thus dramatically boost the diversity of their genomic database. Of course, there is already controversy. Some folks argue how to address fraud, as lily-white folks may try to secure a free test. As Razib Khan points out, African American genetic admixture is pretty clear, with Africans/pure blacks and European/lily whites sticking out like sore thumbs. Of course, there are also white folks complaining about black folks getting a free test. My response: (1) African-American genomic data is of higher value because far less is known about it; and (2) there’s far more black resistance to scientific research due to history (e.g., the infamous Tuskegee Institute study). Thus, incentive offer (free test to learn about your ancestry and health genome) in order to secure data.

The health data sounds iffy to me, perhaps because it’s only been done on white folks. While there will be some overlap with African-Americans, I’d take the health info.

What I find interesting is the ancestry painting feature and Relative Finder service. With ancestry painting, they look at your 22 bi-parentlly inherited chromosome pairs (the 23rd one determines your gender) one segment at a time — there are 1 million+ markers — and determines for each stretch whether it was most likely inherited from Africa, Europe (Eurasia), or Asia.

Erica Baker, an African-American tech professional and blogger in California, has written about her experience (disclosure: Erica’s employer is an investor in 23AndMe, but she paid for her test on her own). Above is her ancestry painting. Green is for African, blue is Eurasian (called only “European” here, even though it encompasses folks ranging from South Asians to Iraqis to Swedes), and orange is Asian/Native American (called only “Asian” here).

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