Review of Gene Heritage – a Third Party DNA and Inherited Traits Analysis Tool
Have you heard of GeneHeritage.com? The owners of this third party DNA analysis tool, E. Castedo Ellerman and Joseph Silver, contacted us and offered to show us how their company can analyze your raw DNA results and give new information about inherited traits.
As you probably know, I am fascinated by inherited traits. I think it’s an especially useful way to begin teaching children about genetic genealogy. Here are some posts I’ve written about this subject:
So what is Gene Heritage and how does it relate to all this? Gene Heritage was created in 2016, when Castedo made a deal with his father. If Castedo’s father bought AncestryDNA™ kits for the extended family, Castedo would do DNA analysis on their raw DNA data files. In the end, he convinced 16 family members across 3 generations to submit their saliva samples! Here’s what Castedo said about the experience:
Analyzing the DNA of my family turned out to be a lot of fun, especially when it came to generating an early prototype of the Grandchild Report. The project involved mathematics, statistics, genetics, and computer programming, all subjects I care deeply about.
At family get-togethers, my relatives enjoyed discussing and comparing these early reports that I’d generated for them. Everyone had a different reaction to what they learned about their genes and traits from the reports. My daughter Franca (who has brown eyes) found it interesting that she isn’t even a carrier for the light eye gene, whereas her sister Valesca has blue eyes. Denny and my other family members suggested I do DNA analysis for the general public.
The original reports were pretty technical. I talked to Joe about the idea of designing the reports to be more understandable, educational, and attractive. He liked the idea too, so we implemented a quick trial. As soon as Gene Heritage launched we were overwhelmed with interest and we’ve been scrambling ever since to improve the service and reports.
Here’s what Joseph Silver said about the company:
We want to give AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA customers a way to learn more about their genes and traits in a format that’s both entertaining and informative. Currently, we report on eye color, earwax type, armpit odor, lactose intolerance, and Asian Flush, as well as on taste sensitivity to saccharine and certain cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. We report on smell sensitivity to a whole bunch of odorants including rose oil, violets, leaf alcohol, aspagusic acid waste, and a male pheromone. On top of this, our reports identify the ancient origins of a customer’s genes; we indicate whether a customer’s various alleles have been around for tens of thousands of years or derive from more recent mutations occurring in Europe, Asia, Eurasia, and Africa. With our Parent-Child upgrade, customers can see how genes have been passed on from parents to a child.
Instead of bombarding customers with loads of unintelligible data that oftentimes derives from dubious research, our approach is to carefully comb through the genetic study literature to curate reports that we assess to be scientifically reliable. We clearly state whether a gene has a major, moderate, or minor influence on a particular trait. There are a whole bunch of other influences on traits aside from genes, including dietary, microbial, and lifestyle factors. It’s important to us to paint a true and honest picture of just how much or little a gene influences a trait.
As far as future plans, we hope to:
1) Release a Grandchild Report that illustrates how genes are passed down through 3 generations of grandparents, parents, and child. The Grandchild Report will show what percentage of DNA a grandchild inherited from each grandparent. [Update January 2019 -this has been released! See new blog post here]
2) Research and add more genes and traits to Gene Heritage, especially multi-gene traits like skin color, red hair, hair color, baldness, and height. [Update January 2019 – Gene Heritage has added their first poly-genetic trait: skin darkness]
3) Add even more ancient origins for the genes we report on.
Read more about the owners of Gene Heritage at their website here: www.GeneHeritage.com
Three Generations of DNA
Mom and I tried out Gene Heritage with the DNA of my maternal grandmother, my mother, and myself. It’s my maternal line! Here’s a photo of us when my third baby was born in 2016.
I like this photo of my grandmother and mother when they were younger. You can see the resemblance between them.
To use Gene Heritage, we uploaded our raw DNA test results from Ancestry.com. Then we received individual reports for each set of DNA. Here’s the first gene in my individual report:
Eye Color Gene Region OCA2
On the left, you learn about the allele pair. On the right, you learn about the inheritance and origins of the alleles. I received two “light” alleles of the OCA2 gene region, so my allele pair means that I have a major influence for light eyes.
What color are my eyes in real life? Blue.
It’s interesting to learn about this particular gene region that influences eye color. What about another gene region?
Floral Odorants Gene OR5A1
This shows that I inherited two insensitive alleles for the OR5A1 Gene, which influences sensitivity to floral odorants.
These are just two of the regions. My report included 9 genes and gene regions.
Now let’s get to the really fun part, the parent-child reports, where you can learn who you inherited these genes from.
To view parent-child reports, upload raw DNA for you and one of your parents. Then, assign the parent-child relationships. We received two parent-child reports. One for me to my mother, Diana. The other report was for my mother, Diana to her mother, Anna.
Here is a screenshot showing the parent-child report for me to my mother, Diana. The report actually included my grandmother’s alleles in the left column also, which was a nice surprise.
Eye Color Gene Region OCA2
In the column on the left, you can see that all three of us have two “light” alleles of the OCA2 gene region. I have blue eyes, my mother has green eyes, and my grandmother has green eyes. This is what I expected to see. But I did wonder why the analysis of my DNA can’t tell exactly which specific color our eyes are. Click on the “more” button under “did you know” in the left column gives an answer to this question:
OCA2 is a major influence on eye color. It produces melanin, a pigment that affects the color of your eyes. People with more melanin in the iris have darker eyes, whereas those with less melanin have lighter eyes.
Blue, green, and grey eyes are lighter and contain less melanin. Hazel eyes are in the middle of the dark-light spectrum. Brown eyes have higher concentrations of melanin. Certain mutations in OCA2 lead to albinism, of which one trait is blue eyes.
African and Asian populations typically have alleles for darker eyes, whereas alleles for lighter eyes are more prevalent in European populations. According to one study, the mutation for light eyes occurred in Europe 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
A common misconception is that only one gene controls eye color. In fact, other genes also influence this trait, including TYRP1, ASIP, and ALC42A5.
Since OCA2 is the primary genetic influence on eye color and there are no common environmental factors impacting this trait, Gene Heritage has labeled OCA2 a MAJOR influence. OCA2 also has a minor to moderate influence on skin color and hair tone.
Eye color inheritance is more complex than I realized. More than one gene influence eye color. This article about twins inheriting green eyes from brown eyed parents who didn’t know any relatives with green eyes is interesting: http://genetics.thetech.org/ask/ask316
Floral Odorants Gene OR5A1
For the OR5A1 gene, I did not inherit the same exact allele pair as my mother, so it makes for a more interesting analysis. This is a parent-child report for Diana and her mother, Anna. You can see the allele pairs in the left column and what it means to have that combination of alleles. My grandmother, Anna, and I have two “insensitive” alleles. My mother, Diana, has one of each. This means she is more sensitive to certain floral odorants, including roses and violets.
The right hand column shows what each allele in the OR5A1 Gene is color coded as. The “insensitive” allele is color coded blue and the “sensitive” allele is dark red.
The center column shows a pedigree of inheritance. Although we did not upload Diana’s father’s DNA, the fact that he passed on one “sensitive” allele can be deduced because we know one is from mother and one is from father, and she has one of each.
My parent-child report show the inheritance pattern of this gene looks similar:
Because I have two “insensitive” alleles, I had to have inherited at least one “insensitive” allele from my father.
These reports help understand the complex nature of inherited traits. It is also a fun way to learn what traits I inherited from my parents and grandparents!
Grandparent Inheritance Charts
One of the features I’m most excited about trying at Gene Heritage is their grandchild report. This will likely be released by the end of 2018, and promises to show the percentage of DNA inherited from each grandparent. To try this, you need to upload your DNA from a grandparent, parent, and child. I have DNA from myself, both parents, and 3 of 4 grandparents, so I’m excited to try it out.
Update January 2019 – I tried the new grandchild report and love it! Check it my review of it here: The Grandchild Report at Gene Heritage.
All in all, I think Gene Heritage is a useful, fun tool. The price is $12 to upload each family member’s DNA. To learn more, go to http://www.geneheritage.com/.