I was amazed to read on the “nature” blog that a genome hacker has discovered what is believed to be the most extensive family tree ever, consisting of 13 million linked individuals.
This family tree was constructed with data from online genealogy sites, and the researchers plan to analyse genetic traits and how they pass from generation to generation. These traits include longevity and facial features.
This ‘largest family tree ever’ will be presented by Yaniv Erlich, a computational biologist at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. The data has been stripped of identifying information to protect privacy and has been made available to other researchers.
Nancy Cox, a human geneticist at the University of Chicago states, “We’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of what these kinds of pedigrees can tell us.”
The ability to measure the change in frequency of traits over generations may help to understand to what extent traits are dictated by genetics.
There is concern by some regarding the quality of the largest family tree ever; about using self-reported genealogical data, as pedigrees stretching to royalty and beyond a certain date are not believed to be valid. There is also the problem of quality of sources and simple errors in the entering of data.
Although it is unclear just how useful and accurate these huge pedigrees will be, some enthusiasm and eagerness is being expressed by scientists and they are working to create a specific experiment that could produce useful results.