‘Genome Hacker’ Builds Crazy Family Tree With 13 Million Branches

Genome hacker Yaniv Erlich, a computational biologist, has built a family tree that puts your Ancestry.com efforts to shame. That’s because his tree dates back to the 15th century and is comprised of more than 13 million individuals.

The family tree is now the largest ever assembled, and it showcases the power of computational computing in the modern day of genetics.

Erlich presented his family tree to a group at a meeting for the American Society of Human Genetics in Boston, Massachusetts.

The “mega-repository,” which is also featured in the journal Nature, could offer a new way for researchers to analyze the relationships between human genotypes and phenotypes — between, essentially, nature and nurture.

In the past, family data was collected, church records were culled, hospital logs were investigated, and various other observations were made before a family tree could be constructed. However, Erlich and his team focused on curating all of that data through public profiles. Researchers used Geni.com, a website with 43 million public profiles. Not only did researchers easily find an individuals’ birth and death dates, but also the locations of their births and deaths. Sometimes, a users photo could even be cultivated from their Geni.com profile.

Researchers took the trait-and-gene information they collected, analyzed it, and then compiled a “single uber-pedigree” that involves nearly 13 million individuals.

With its new wealth of data, the group hopes to study nature vs. nurture claims. Researchers may soon find out how we evolved based on the traits collected inside the massive family tree.

The study linked to medical records, and the next step according to some scientists will be to link such work to genetic databases in order to provide a more complete picture.

How do you think massively aggregating medical records to create a family tree with 13 million people on its branches can help doctors and scientists in the future?