Computer Program Traces Ancestry Based on DNA Samples


Photo: Plot of genetic markers for 255 individuals from four continental regions. Red and green represents identical genotypes. Black represents genotypic variations. Notice the distinct patterns formed in the four continental blocks, highlighting the genetic similarities between people of the same ancestry.

Researchers have developed a computer algorithm that can help trace the genetic ancestry of thousands of individuals within minutes, without any prior knowledge of their background. The program is expected to help individuals, historians and anthropologists in their study of the origins of different populations.

Unlike previous computer programs of its kind that require prior knowledge of an individual’s ancestry and background, this new algorithm looks for specific DNA markers known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced snips), and needs nothing more than a DNA sample in the form of a simple cheek swab. The researchers used genetic data from previous studies to perform and confirm their research, including the new HapMap database, which is working to uncover and map variations in the human genome.


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