How big is your family tree? Genealogists who are just starting out might have only connected a handful of family members. Those lucky enough to have a genealogist or two in previous generations of their family might have a rather large family tree.
It is unlikely that your family tree is as large as the one that was put together by a “genome hacker” and his team of researchers. That family tree includes 13-million people! You might be wondering how it was possible to complete all the research that the creation of this family tree would require.
Yaniv Erlich is a computational biologist. He presented the massive family tree at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting that took place in Boston in October of 2013. He and his team at Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, believe that the work could provide a new tool for understanding the extent that genes contribute to specific traits.
Mr. Erlich, and his team, gathered data from church records. These family trees were of a few hundred people (at most). It took years to gather the data.
Next, the team streamlined the search by using the online genealogy website Geni.com. It has more than 43 million public profiles. These profiles state a person’s name, date of birth, date of death, location, and could even contain some photos.
The team of researchers put together the information into family trees that ranged from a few thousand people to up to 13 million people. The one that includes 13 million people goes back to the fifteenth century.
The purpose of all this effort was to use the family tree (and pedigrees) of the individuals they had researched to see if the information could give them some clues about the genetic inheritance of traits or diseases. Take a look at one person – then compare him or her to an ancestor. What is similar?
It might be possible for other researchers to use this gigantic family tree to figure out how much a particular trait is rooted in genetics (as opposed to environment). It may reveal if a certain trait is influenced by one gene, or from an interaction between several different genes. The information may also shed light on demographic changes and population growth.
There is the potential that a person’s pedigree could, someday, be linked to medical information or even DNA sequence data. Right now, some people already have had their genomes sequenced, and have made that information available in public databases. What could we learn after more people share their genetic information?
The pedigrees that Mr. Erlich and his team put together have been made available to other researchers. Before sharing it, they removed the names from the data. This was done to protect privacy. In other words, if you happen to have some of your family tree at Geni.com, you need not worry that your privacy has been violated.
Image by George Barner on Flickr.< Return To Blog