Tuesday, 22 May 2007


At the monthly meeting of the
West Gauteng Branch, GSSA on 19 May 2007
Johann Ahlers referred in his talk to
Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF).
What is it?

By Doug Ware, KUTV.com

For years, genealogy research has mainly consisted of historical documents, complex family trees and libraries of data. But now, a Utah-based organization is using actual genetic code to trace -- and connect -- family histories across the world.

James Sorenson and a local organization have merged resources to form what is known as the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF), with the goal of broadening family history research and connecting people from all over the world – with a new technological database built on human DNA.

There are already several Internet websites that incorporate the use of genealogy and genetics, leading many researchers to believe that this sort of gene mapping could be a revolutionary new method.

With more than 5 billion people on the planet, speaking a myriad of various languages, it might be hard for some to believe that literally any one of us could be connected to the same ancestors. Sorenson believes that using DNA to trace our family histories will illustrate how closely linked the world actually is.

“DNA and what we are finding out and learning has such a tremendous potential for good,” he says.

“What grew… was the desire to create a database that we could use to connect all of the people of the world, both genetically and genealogically to demonstrate how close we really are,” says geneticist Scott Woodward, who collects DNA samples for the SMGF.

To start the project, researchers needed to gather various samples from people around the world in order to connect them. Getting samples from Utahns with European backgrounds wasn’t difficult, due to the state’s predominant Caucasian population, but retrieving codes with ties to the rest of the planet was more of a challenge.

After years of effort, researchers gathered samples from the far reaches of the Earth; from China to Cameroon, from Southeast Asia to South Africa, and many points in between. Some samples even come from remote villages in Central America, where the inhabitants often speak dying languages.

And many of us, the DNA shows, are closely connected with these people through genealogy.

To demonstrate how the procedure works, news reporter, Fields Moseley, gave researchers a sample of his own DNA to see where his family history would lead. The sample, extracted from Moseley’s mouth, went into a database along with information on his family’s known history.

Before long, Moseley’s genetic sample was broken down to its molecular level so that researchers can more clearly analyze the DNA code. To many, the sample turns out to look like a number of squiggly lines on a computer screen but to expert eyes they are markers with meaning. (Click on diagram to enlarge.)

After a run of Moseley’s sample through the database, researchers connected him to a man named Robert Moseley, who was born in Virginia nearly 300 years ago. It is likely, the research indicates, that he is Moseley’s great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

And the genetic connections aren’t always obvious. Last names among relations, for instance, don’t always match.

Next, Moseley was matched with the name Holgate from Kane County, Utah. And although Fields is not originally from this state, all but one of his DNA markers matched Holgate’s. The experts concluded that sometime in the last 200 years, Moseley and Holgate shared a common ancestor – most likely in Great Britain.

Moments later, Moseley was linked to the name Boutwell – the two of which had an exact DNA match. It was another ancestor connection for the KUTV reporter.

Some of the mystery may be clarified by knowing that surnames have often changed over the past several hundred years, with some branches of family trees dying off. 500 years ago, there were far fewer people living in the world which means that sometimes family relatives – like cousins – married, leading some family trees to look more like genetic “webs.”

“We can go beyond that and find out where you genes were in the Middle Ages… where your genes were 2,000 years ago,” Woodward says.

The SMGF is hoping to acquire and process approximately 500,000 DNA samples from around the globe for inclusion into the database. Anyone can give their own sample to the foundation, and receive a basic report at no cost. More a more detailed family analysis, the cost per person is approximately $75. (You can request a participation from the SMGF via its website by clicking on the link below)

As complex as their project is, researchers say the end result is a humanitarian one.

“Realize how closely we are all related to one another,” Sorenson says.

“We just need to know that more … and feel it.”

LEARN MORE: Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation - Official Site

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