DNA status report August 2012


                The Byrne/Burns/Beirne DNA Project continues to grow, fortunately at a manageable rate. We are among FTDNA’s 100 largest surname projects, but we are perhaps somewhat unique in having so many distinct unrelated origins of our surnames or, better to say, lineages since surname spelling is only a weak clue to origin. The big news continues to be the rapid increase in the number of SNPs being discovered, and the help they give us in identifying the origins of these lineages. Most of this report will be devoted to recent SNP developments, especially  to  a new and major tool that National Geographic’s Genographic Project is about to make available to us.


 In the six months since our last status report our project has grown from 230 tested members to 250—not counting several who are awaiting test results. FTDNA credits us with 264 members, but it counts kits ordered, some of which never are returned and a few of which have been paid for but not yet used. Of the 250 tested members, 138 are at the 67-level with one upgrade pending (56% of the total), and of these 138, 29 have advanced to 111 markers (14% of the total) with the results for six more 111-marker upgrades pending. As said before, researchers use 67-marker haplotypes almost entirely now. You may wish to look at a very useful “haplogroup predictor” that one researcher has prepared for SNPs downstream from L21—that requires 67 markers. See http://www.rcasey.net/DNA/R_L21/SNP_Predictor/index.php

                Our largest clusters continue to be Leinster and the Northwest Irish with 52 members each, followed by the Monaghan cluster (Airghialla-2 modal) with 28. We have divided our membership into 16 R-L21 lineages and three R-U106 lineages (L21 and U106 are parallel branches off the big R1b tree limb, plus an “Unassigned”  R group of 25. We also have Haplogroup I1 and I2b1a lineages, both including some related clusters and some unassigned. And we have a two-member R1a lineage, and a singleton G.

L21 Project Website

 A researcher named Alex Williamson has compiled two phylogenetic tree charts of everyone who is L21+ and whose data was available to him. Although he missed some, a great many of our project members are on his charts. One chart—96 pages long—contains those L21s who have tested to 67 markers, divided by haplogroups. The second chart—43 pages—contains those who have tested to 111 markers. The charts are especially valuable to show other surnames genetically close to ours.

To see these charts, one must be a member of the L21 Project’s message board. To do this, send a message to RL21Project-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. After being accepted you can go to that Yahoo website and click on “Files.” Then scroll down to Alex’s 4 August 2012 entries. There are many other files of interest on this message board.


SNPs are Twigs. STRs are Leaves

                In the last report, I said SNPs are fast becoming the preferred research vehicle, but some have difficulty grasping the difference between SNPs and STRs (markers). Perhaps a repeat of remarks made by FTDNA president Bennett Greenspan will help:

  “Think of it (Y DNA phylogeny) as a tree, then you have a branch, and then you
have a twig and at the very end of the twig you have leaves…
when looking… at our markers we are looking at our leaves…
The leaves are the STRs so the STRs have a much higher mutation rate than the
SNPs. Also the STRs can get bigger or smaller…
and because they can go one direction and keep going on and turn around come
back to where they were, there is always a little bit of gray…
because of that the other biological item we can use is this branch or this twig
called a SNP because it moves one direction and is not believed to move back, so
consequently it’s stable…
   “The question is how those leaves connect to many twigs which all fit onto the
same branch and we are working on trying to close a time gap from the leaves
work for … for the least three hundred or four hundred years, maybe it’ll be a
little bit further than that with 111 marker tests…
however, if we can discover the twigs, all the twigs on a branch, then we won’t
have that uncertainty that the Y STRs provide, because they are not perfect, but
if can we look at these twigs they are all defined by what is called a SNP, which
is a single mutation that happened one time in our species and all of the
descendants of that person who had that that mutation will have that mutation,
in that way we can bridge the gap between genealogy and anthropology which takes
us back thousands of years…
    “What’s happening now in this explosion of new twig discoveries on the tree…
and so it’s not going to take all that long, my expectation is that within a
couple of years it should be mapped out in enough detail that we’ll have
connected the twigs and leaves in enough detail…
    “There should be great geographical specificity between individuals when we can
do that.”  

Introducing Geno 2.0—A Revolutionary Breakthrough 

 The National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project (GP) has developed a cutting-edge new test kit, called Geno 2.0 using a new chip that examines a unique collection of nearly 150,000 SNPs that have been specifically selected to provide unprecedented ancestry-relevant information. Included are some 12,000 Y-DNA SNPs, 3352 mtDNA SNPs, and 130,000 autosomal and X-chromosome ones.  

According to GP’s website, a new  cheek swab is sent to you, and  they (actually, the processing will be done in FTDNA’s Houston lab) then will run a comprehensive analysis to identify thousands of genetic markers on your mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down each generation from mother to child, to reveal your direct maternal deep ancestry. In the case of men, we will also examine markers on the Y chromosome, which is passed down from father to son, to reveal your direct paternal deep ancestry. In addition, GP will analyze a collection of more than 130,000 other ancestry-informative markers from across your entire genome to reveal the regional affiliations of your ancestry, offering insights into your ancestors who are not on a direct maternal or paternal line.

The results will show the migration paths your ancient ancestors followed thousands of years ago, and reveal your ancestral makeup—your branches on the human family tree.

Included in the markers GP will test for is a subset that scientists have recently determined to be from our hominin cousins, Neanderthals and the newly discovered Denisovans, who split from our lineage around 500,000 years ago. As modern humans were first migrating out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals and Denisovans were still alive and well in Eurasia. It seems that our ancestors met, leaving a small genetic trace of these ancient relatives in our DNA. With Geno 2.0, you will learn if you have any Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA in your genome. The test also includes a few chimpanzee SNPs, presumably for the more hirsute among is.

            FTDNA has made it clear that this new test is the Genographic Project’s, not theirs, although they did help develop the chip and may later offer it via the FTDNA site. The cutoff date was November 2011, so all but a few recently found SNPs should be on there. This means that FTDNA’s current Deep Clade test ($139) is outmoded, since the Geno 2.0 ($199.95) includes all it covered plus thousands more. FTDNA still will offer individual SNP tests ($29) and its WTY test ($950). The difference between the Geno test and the WTY test is like apples and oranges in that Geno 2.0 will test some 146,000 SNPs on the full human genome, while the WTY tests about 425,000 base pair on the Y-chromosome only looking for SNPs (mutations) among them.

            The Geno 2.0 is for deep ancestry, not finding relatives. It does not replace the 37, 67, and 111 STR (marker) test. Nor does it replace Family Finder or the full mtDNA scan. It does not contain medical information. Kits will be available in September or October and results should be available is six-eight weeks. Results can be transferred to your FTDNA pages at no cost.

            So, what is in this for us? Well, M222, the SNP indicator for our Northwest Irish contingent, has been “end of the line” for years. It has been reported that the Geno test contains three SNPs downstream from M222, and this may allow us finally to understand some divisions in this lineage. L159.2, the indicator for our Leinster cluster, is considered rather flakey, and Z255, its upstream parent, is considered a better one. But all the Leinster surnames are close together in genetic distance. Perhaps the new test will identify a better indicator for Leinster in general, and perhaps one for our Clan O’Byrne division of it. And so on.


            We have had several breakthroughs among our geographically-unidentified lineages being tested for new SNPs. Among them is Lineage VIII, which has been found to be positive for L1066, and one former lineage that was found to be R-U106 and has been moved into that group. Another lineage (XVI) currently is being tested for L319.1 which, if positive, may mean Mayo origins.

            Sadly, seven project members have passed away. I checked the status of their remaining DNA, and FTDNA replied that five have an adequate supply in storage for further testing, but two do not. FTDNA said, “We will send out additional collection kits for elderly or ill participants at no additional charge.” There is no warning system about a supply running low, so it is up to us to call FTDNA. Being an octogenarian, I will be among the first.

Paul Burns

August 2012

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