Using more than 770,000 spit samples taken from their customers over the last five years, researchers [at the genealogy company Ancestry have] mapped how people moved and married in post-colonial America. And their choices…shaped today’s modern genetic landscape.
[Catherine Ball, chief scientific officer at Ancestry and her] team of geneticists and statisticians started by pulling out subsets of closely related people from their 770,000 spit samples. In that analysis, each person appears as a dot, while their genetic relationships to everyone else in the database are sticks.
Ancestry’s study has real applications for medical research. A lymphoma study pulling subjects from Minneapolis shouldn’t expect to see the same results as one that recruits in Miami, for example. Populations in different parts of the country have very different genetic makeups—and those differences could be incredibly valuable to a company building personalized cancer treatments, immunotherapy drugs, and other gene-targeted therapeutics.
“These companies can’t tell you today who they’re going to license your data to and for what purpose,” says [Arthur Daemmrich, a healthcare historian at the Smithsonian Institute]. “They’re just trying to be the holder of the data. But if they put samples on ice and keep them frozen forever, does consent cover that?”
[The study can be found here.]
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