Genealogy Tool Can Now Pinpoint Ancestry Through Genetics

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Genealogy is a fun pastime for many people throughout the world. Tracking down ancestral information and filling out family trees is a way for many to connect with the past.

Beyond birth and death records, however, the study of genealogy is now being pushed forward faster than ever thanks to genetics. Genetic research can provide people throughout the world with an accurate description of their genetic lineage, and now a new technique can even pinpoint their origins on a map.

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications has demonstrated the accuracy of a new technique that can identify the place of origin of any person using their genetic makeup. While this has been possible for some time, previous methods were not suitable for people in places with large populations of immigrants.

The new technique uses a "Geographic Population Structure" tool to pair genetic population distributions with individual genetics. The tool uses a database of genetic information from across the world, which holds the genetic mixtures unique to people around the world that were created through migration and other factors. In some cases these genetic markers are accurate enough to identify individual villages of origin.

The researchers were able to take unknown genetic samples and identify their location of origin. This was done by cross-referencing the samples' mixture of genetic characteristics with the database.

"We were surprised by the simplicity and precision of this method," said Tatiana Tatarinova, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of Research Pediatrics at the University of Southern California. "People in a given geographical area are more likely to have similar genetics. When they also have genetic traits typically found in other, distant regions, the geographical origin of those traits is generally the closest location where those traits can be found."

Tatarinova and her colleagues have set up a website where people can use the new tool for free. The tool does require that people already know their DNA genotype.

In addition to the obvious use of the technology for genealogy, the new method could also be used in other important fields. The study's authors believe the technique could be used to help people in high-immigration parts of the world discover their origins, giving them insight into their genetic health risk factors.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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