Secrets in Our DNADVD - 2021
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Cece Moore (Genetic Genealogist): We inherit our DNA from both of our parents: 50 percent from mom, 50 percent from dad. And they inherited it from their parents; and their parents, of course, inherited it from their parents.
Narrator: Our parents each contribute about 50 percent to our DNA. And the same is true for them and their parents. So, the amount of DNA we inherit from any ancestor drops by half with each preceding generation.
We also share DNA with anyone who shares a common ancestor with us: siblings, half-siblings, first cousins, second cousins and so on. The way that the D.T.C.s determine those relationships is by comparing people’s DNA. The amount that is shared is measured in a unit called centimorgans.
Cece Moore: The more centimorgans two people share, the closer they are related. And the fewer centimorgans they share, the more distantly related they are.
For adoptees, DNA has been huge, because for them to try and figure out who their birth relatives were just using paper. It’s very, very difficult.
Narrator: Barbara starts by connecting the adoptee to the people on their DNA match list. Then, by digging through records she finds more relatives. The goal: find an ancestor who links everyone together and points directly to the birth parent.
Her biological mother’s name was Ann D’Amico. June has never learned the identity of her father. When June takes her test with AncestryDNA, she checks the box asking to be linked to any customers with whom she shares DNA. Though she knows Ann has died, there’s someone else she desperately wants to find. While digging into Ann’s life story, June learned that she’d given birth to another biracial daughter, who had a different father, a girl, named Joan Moser, June’s older half-sister.
Narrator: But there’s another problem with the way D.T.C.s calculate ancestry.
The DNA of people who lived in a place long ago, your ancestors, may be different from the DNA of the people in the reference groups who live there today. That’s because, for centuries, people and their DNA have been moving around the globe.
Fatimah Jackson: You really have to get over the hurdle of static thinking about human populations, that there are Irish genes and Italian genes and Nigerian genes and Zimbabwean genes. And that’s just not the way that human evolution works. Because static feeds into the racist paradigm, feeds into the me-versus-you, you know, us-versus-them.
Bennett Greenspan(CEO, FamilyTreeDNA): And that’s why all the DNA testing companies are trying to add more discrete populations to their database, so that when they don’t assign your population perfectly, they’re as close as they possibly can be.
Narrator: 23andMe reports that she has a BRCA1 variation that makes it highly likely she will develop ovarian or breast cancer. A second test, by a DNA lab that specializes in BRCA testing confirms it. Although she is cancer free for now, she makes a decision.
Jessica Algazi: My gynecologist said, you know, “Jess, you got to do something now. You’ll have your ovaries and tubes removed, and you need to have a double mastectomy right away.” And so, I’m just grateful that I was able to find out in time to do something, before I got sick. I’m eternally grateful to the folks at 23andMe for giving me that opportunity. They, quite possibly, saved my life.
Narrator: But most women who have BRCA variations don’t have any of the three that 23andMe tests for, women like Pamela Munster. She happens to be an oncologist, in San Francisco, who specializes in breast cancer.
Genealogy in LEO:
The so-called “Golden State Killer” was suspected of committing at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes during the 1970s and 80s. Police have long had his DNA, but they have no idea who he is. Barbara agrees to help. From the crime scene DNA, a SNP profile is made, and then uploaded to GEDmatch. Using the relatives who pop up, Barbara creates a family tree and eventually zeroes in on a man named Joseph DeAngelo. A one-time policeman, DeAngelo had never been under suspicion. Police collect his DNA and run an S.T.R. test. The result? A perfect match with the DNA of the “Golden State Killer.”
Cece Moore: We got really lucky that there was only one male in this family, because the genetic genealogy was pointing at one person and only one person, and that was William Earl Talbott, II.
Narrator: At the time of the murders, Talbott lived a few miles from the bridge where Jay Cook’s body was found. Now, he is 55, a truck driver. The police follow him. They want his DNA to see if it matches the DNA from the crime scene. One day they get lucky. A drinking cup falls out of his truck. Jim Scharf brings the cup to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for S.T.R. testing. Lab supervisor Lisa Collins asks him to wait. Soon, she returns.
Narrator: On May 17, 2018, William Earl Talbott, II is arrested on a charge of first degree murder for a 31-year-old crime. He’s a man who was identified, not because he took a DNA test, but because a relative did. Someone he’d never even met.
Do we want to catch people who have committed heinous crimes? Absolutely, yes. But what DNA profiles are being trolled through? What failed attempts to find suspects are we not hearing about and the data violations and privacy violations that happen along the way?
But there’s little regulation, and policies vary. In 2019, FamilyTreeDNA apologized for letting the FBI search its database for people who share DNA with crime scene samples without customers’ permission. FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch both now say they only do so with explicit permission. And another worry: consumer DNA companies, like any that collect data, are vulnerable to hackers.
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