MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Barbara Walters, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Wanda Sykes and a host of celebrities are tracing their ancestry in the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (http://www.pbs.org/findingyourroots) with the scientific help of leading personal genetics company, 23andMe. 23andMe genotyped all of the celebrities featured on Finding Your Roots and consulted with show producers to help them map the heritage and discover the global origins of each celebrity. Finding Your Roots premiered Sunday, March 25 at 8 pm and airs for nine consecutive weeks through Sunday, May 20 at 8 pm on PBS (check local listings).
Saliva samples from the celebrities were used to provide the DNA, which was extracted from the cheek cells found in their saliva. DNA samples were then genotyped on 23andMe's customized genotyping array, which reads more than one million specific points, called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), in an individual's genome. In addition, 23andMe evaluates tens of thousands of handpicked SNPs focused on particular traits selected from the scientific literature to provide personal genetic information available only through 23andMe. All laboratory testing provided for 23andMe customers and Finding Your Roots participants is performed in a CLIA-certified laboratory.
Until recently, DNA genealogy tests could assess only one or two branches of a person's family tree, because they used only the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA. 23andMe analyzes these DNA segments along with "autosomal" DNA from chromosomes 1 to 22, allowing individuals to trace ancestry along many branches of their family tree. The company's Relative Finder feature also enables individuals to connect with their living relatives who are also in 23andMe's growing database, which now includes more than 150,000 individuals.
23andMe's technology incorporates more than 750 maternal lineages and over 500 different paternal lineages, curated by 23andMe scientists so that customers can trace the global origins of their paternal or maternal lines.
"DNA is a powerful tool that can supplement paper records and family stories," stated 23andMe's Senior Director of Research, Joanna Mountain, PhD and consultant to Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "DNA can provide information that's been lost, missing, or hidden from memories, oral traditions and written records."
Not only did Finding Your Roots participants find out if their DNA connects them to a select group of other celebrities and historical figures, including Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, Jesse James and others who are regularly featured in 23andMe's reports, but using proprietary technology, Finding Your Roots participants also found out how they were connected to each other. In as few as two or three hops, family connections are made across cousins and continents. The connections were sometimes direct family relations but more often each pair of celebrities was connected through one, two, or three others — cousins, related to the celebrities through common ancestors.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Finding Your Roots host, author of 14 books and the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, found that genetic science reveals that racial and ethnic dividing lines are not as sharp as many assume.
As a cultural historian Gates reflected:
"One of the triumphs of American democracy is that the diversity of our people can be reflected and explored through genealogy and genetics. Through the use of 23andMe's Relative Finder tool that uses autosomal analysis, we have actually been able to prove that certain African Americans are descended from the slave master who owned their ancestors. This is a historic achievement made possible only by this incredible technology. In addition, there is no doubt that receiving their autosomal ancestry information through 23andMe's Ancestry Painting feature is the high point for each of our guests on the show."
23andMe narrows down family origins and generates a broad picture of genetic ancestry through an in-depth comparison to over 50 populations from around the world. 23andMe can tell approximately what fraction of each participant's ancestry is African, Asian or European. The 23andMe Ancestry Painting presents their history as reflected in their chromosomes. Additional 23andMe tools reveal where their ancestors lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago and, in some cases, indicate whether participants have any Native American ancestors within the past five generations.
You can learn more about how 23andMe can help you explore your personal genetic ancestry at https://www.23andme.com/fyr/grow-your-family-tree/
23andMe, Inc. is a leading personal genetics company dedicated to helping individuals understand their own genetic information through DNA analysis technologies and web-based interactive tools. The company's Personal Genome Service™ enables individuals to gain deeper insights into their ancestry and inherited traits. 23andMe, Inc., was founded by Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki in 2006, and the company is advised by a group of renowned experts in the fields of human genetics, bioinformatics and computer science. More information is available at www.23andme.com.