Posted by Julie Granka on October 2, 2015 in Big Data, DNA Tech, Science

Ancestry science team gives two platform presentations on Friday, October 9th at human genetics conference ASHG

With over one million customers who have submitted their DNA, AncestryDNA has the fastest-growing and one of the largest collections of human genetic data around the world.   That amount of DNA data powers the AncestryDNA science team to perform research at an unprecedented scale – both to learn more about human population history and genetics, and to develop new algorithms and methods in the field.  Next week, the AncestryDNA science team will showcase our latest scientific findings at the Annual Meeting for the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Over the past year, we’ve been busy doing exploratory research into algorithms for estimating individuals’ ethnicities.  Dr. Keith Noto will be giving a platform presentation about a novel approach for estimating an individual’s local and global admixture proportions based on rich haplotype models – a method that builds off of the new DNA phasing algorithm we developed and released as part of AncestryDNA last year (and that Dr. Noto discussed at last year’s ASHG meeting).  Simultaneously, Dr. Peter Carbonetto has been doing research into enhancements to our existing algorithm for ethnicity estimation, and will discuss his findings at the meeting as well. These are just two examples of our recent research into algorithms used at AncestryDNA.

In addition to researching our ethnicity algorithms, we’ve leveraged the ethnicity estimates of our over one million customers to learn more about the population history of the United States. In Dr. Amir Kermany’s platform presentation, he will discuss how ethnicity estimates of over 900,000 individuals reveal trends of increasing genetic diversity throughout the 20th century. I’ll be presenting research using those same ethnicity estimates to learn more about recent and historical mating patterns and preferences in the United States.

Patterns of DNA matching (DNA shared identical-by-descent, or IBD) among one million customers have also proven to be enlightening about recent population history. Dr. Yong Wang will provide a detailed look into historical migration paths of African Americans in the U.S. by analyzing both ethnicity estimates as well as DNA shared IBD among >50,000 African Americans. Dr. Ross Curtis will use IBD data and trends from customer DNA Circles to exhibit differences in historical mating patterns and family sizes across the U.S. Finally, Dr. Eunjung Han will discuss population structure in the U.S. identified from an analysis of a network of IBD among almost 800,000 customers.

The whole team is thrilled to showcase the novel algorithmic and historical findings made possible by such a large DNA database, as well to give back to the scientific community by sharing and discussing our learnings. But we’re even more excited to continue our research after we get back from Baltimore: as the AncestryDNA database grows, we are bound to make even more groundbreaking discoveries.

Julie Granka

Julie has been a population geneticist at AncestryDNA since May 2013. Before that, Julie received her Ph.D. in Biology and M.S. in Statistics from Stanford University, where she studied genetic data from human populations and developed computational tools to answer questions about population history and evolution. She also spent time collecting and studying DNA using spit-collection tubes like the ones in an AncestryDNA kit. Julie likes to spend her non-computer time enjoying the outdoors – hiking, biking, running, swimming, camping, and picnicking. But if she’s inside, she’s baking, drawing, and painting.


  1. Troy

    Hi Julie,

    I have a question pertaining to population genetics.

    If we are identifying populations as having unique genes through occupying the same space and natural selection etc. Shouldn’t modern population be looked at with the same authenticity as the historic populations you are comparing individual dna to, to predict ethnicity estimates?

    Aren’t unique groups like mestizos and metis and communities of intentional mullato intermarrying distinct populations in their regions.

    Don’t distinct communities like these, although relatively recent given the few hundred years of modern America, meet the same criteria as the more historic regions you are studying?

    Or would this present a problem like sephardic Jewish communities?

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