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Rensselaer Research Review Spring 2007 * Feature Articles Awards & Grants Recent Patents Accolades
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Computer Program Traces Ancestry Using Anonymous DNA Samples
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Audio Summary: “Tracing Ancestry”
MP3 file version
New Computer Program More Than 99% Accurate

A group of computer scientists, mathematicians, and biologists from around the world have developed a computer algorithm that can help trace the genetic ancestry of thousands of individuals in minutes, creating a valuable tool for targeting drugs and other medical treatments.

This program will help people understand their unique backgrounds and aid historians and anthropologists in their study of where different populations originated and how humans became such a hugely diverse, global society.

Different From Other Programs

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, 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.

Their program was more than 99 percent accurate and correctly identified the ancestry of hundreds of individuals. This included people from genetically similar populations (such as Chinese and Japanese) and complex genetic populations like Puerto Ricans who can come from a variety of backgrounds including Native American, European, and African.

“When we compared our findings to the existing datasets, only one individual was incorrectly identified and his background was almost equally close between Chinese and Japanese,” said Petros Drineas, the senior author of the study and assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer.

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“Tracing Ancestry Using Anonymous DNA Samples”
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