The researchers said that their work could also be used to advance understanding of disease and the role genetics play in susceptibility as well as treatment.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

April 7, 2008

1 Min Read

A new computer algorithm can trace ancestry with a DNA sample from a cheek swab.

Computer scientists, mathematicians, and biologists have created an algorithm that allows people to uncover their roots. The breakthrough, which allows thousands of people's DNA to be processed for markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in minutes, was first reported in the publication PLoS Genetics.

The researchers said that their work could be used not only to study ancestry, but also to advance understanding of disease and the role genetics play in susceptibility as well as treatment. Scientists are beginning to understand the role that DNA plays in disease. They hope that targeting treatments based on genetic information will increase the effectiveness of medications. The work could also be used to reveal more information about human migration.

According to the paper, only one person, of mixed Chinese and Japanese ancestry, was incorrectly identified.

The research was based in part on information from previous studies and existing databases, including HapMap, a project devoted to mapping genetic variations among humans. HapMap data is public.

The group that published the ancestry study hopes to continue its work and expand the database. The National Science Foundation supported the research. Petros Drineas, assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is the senior author of the study. Peristera Paschou from the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece is the lead author.

Other contributors include: Elad Ziv, Esteban G. Burchard, and Shweta Choudhry from the University of California, San Francisco; William Rodriguez-Cintron from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine in San Juan; and Michael W. Mahoney from Yahoo Research.

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