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Ancestry.com Debuts DNA Testing Service for Family History Research on Illumina Array Platform

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This article was originally posted on May 24.

Ancestry.com this month rolled out a new DNA testing service that allows users to learn more about their family backgrounds and connect with relatives through the online genealogy company's website.

The service, called AncestryDNA, is being offered on the Illumina HumanOmniExpress BeadChip platform, assessing each sample across 700,000 markers, Ken Chahine, general manager of AncestryDNA, told BioArray News this week. He said that parts of the service are being conducted at external laboratories.

"AncestryDNA is using third-party laboratories to extract DNA and perform the genotyping assays," Chahine said. "The third-party laboratories are using procedures and criteria developed and defined by AncestryDNA, and deliver the data to AncestryDNA for in-house data analysis," he said. Chahine did not name the labs.

Illumina CEO Jay Flatley acknowledged a deal with Ancestry.com earlier this year. During the firm's first-quarter earnings call in February, he told investors that the online genealogy firm had ordered $7 million worth of arrays (BAN 2/14/2012).

According to Ancestry.com CEO Tim Sullivan, the company will offer the service to "loyal" Ancestry.com subscribers first, and later will make it available to other interested customers. The company is charging $99 for the service. Sullivan said in a statement that the new service is part of the company's plan to "reinvent" its approach to genetic genealogy.

Ancestry.com's new service will compete directly with Family Tree DNA's Family Finder autosomal DNA testing service. Family Tree DNA launched its service on the Illumina OmniExpress platform last year, with a release price of $289. Family Finder tests more than 710,000 autosomal SNPs using Illumina chips, according to Family Tree DNA.

The AncestryDNA service will allow users to determine their geographic and ethnic origins by comparing a user's profile with DNA samples collected by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. Ancestry.com acquired access to the collection in March. The current version of the test includes 22 worldwide geographical and ethnic categories, including six regions in Europe, five regions in Africa, and Native American.

According to Ancestry.com, once they receive their results, AncestryDNA customers can also use the results to identify distant cousins for genealogical research purposes.

Chahine said in a statement that Ancestry.com has experienced an "overwhelming response and positive feedback" from beta users. "DNA picks up where the paper trail leaves off," Chahine said. "Genomic science can extend family history research into parts of the world where few paper records are available."

Ancestry.com has assembled a scientific advisory board in preparation for the launch of the service. The newly named board consists of Carlos Bustamante, a professor at the department of genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine; Mark Daly, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School's Center for Human Genetics; John Novembre, department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles; Jeffrey Botkin, professor of pediatrics and medical ethics at the University of Utah; and Philip Awadalla, a geneticist at the University of Montreal.

Ancestry.com had previously partnered with 23andMe to offer a lineage tracing service (BAN 9/9/2008). Chahine said this week that Ancestry.com's partnership with 23andMe officially ended "quite some time ago" and that the AncestryDNA service is a "wholly independent project, from both a business and a scientific point of view."

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