Using Algorithims to Trace Human Ancestry

Coming up in the September 2007 issue of PLoS Genetics will be a unique study that reports on using a new computer algorithm to help trace the genetic ancestry of thousands of individuals in minutes, without any prior knowledge of their background. I reported on how will be providing DNA tests for sale last month.

This study does not need an individual’s ancestry and background to narrow down the scope for specific DNA markers known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. The new algorithm needs nothing more than a DNA sample. Previous genetic data collected is used to perform and confirm the research.

Just how accurate is the study? It was 99% accurate in correctly identifying hundreds of people’s ancestry from similar and complex background, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Puerto Ricans. Petros Drineas, one of authors of the paper from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute discusses expanding the study,

“Now that we have found that the program works well, we hope to implement it on a much larger scale, using hundreds of thousands of SNPs and thousands of individuals.”

Algorithms are not only useful to help people understand their personal heritage, anthropologists benefit form these large scale screens to help understand where and when different populations originated and how humans evolved into such a diverse, global society.

I’ll report more on this once the paper comes out, in the mean time this was adapted from this press release.

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