Family Tree DNA

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Family Tree DNA
IndustryGenealogical DNA testing
FounderBennett Greenspan, Max Blankfeld, and Jim Warren[1]
HeadquartersHouston, TX
Area served
ProductsatDNA testing, mtDNA Tests, Y-DNA testing
OwnersBennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld

Family Tree DNA is a division of Gene by Gene, a commercial genetic testing company based in Houston, Texas. Family Tree DNA offers analysis of autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA to individuals for genealogical purpose. It is the most popular company worldwide for Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, and the third most popular for autosomal DNA. In Europe, it is the most common also for autosomal DNA.[2]


Concept and founding (2000–2002)[edit]

Family Tree DNA was founded based on an idea conceived by Bennett Greenspan, a lifelong entrepreneur and genealogy enthusiast. In 1999, Greenspan had entered semi-retirement and was working on his family history. He began work on his mother's Nitz lineage.[3][4][5] When faced with a roadblock in his work, he remembered two cases of genetics being used to prove ancestry that had recently been covered by the media. These were a study by University of Arizona researchers showing that many Cohen men from both Ashkenazic and Sephardic groups share the same Y-chromosome[6] and a study that showed that male descendants of US President Thomas Jefferson and male descendants of his freed slave Sally Hemings shared the same Y-chromosome and a recent common ancestry.[7]

Greenspan had both Nitz cousins in California and had discovered someone in Argentina with the same ancestral surname and the same ancestral location in Eastern Europe. Wishing to use the same method of DNA comparison for his own genealogy, he contacted Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona. Greenspan discovered that academic labs did not offer testing directly to the public and that in general direct to consumer testing for genealogy was not commercially available either. Their conversation inspired him to start a company dedicated to using genetics to solve genealogy problems.[5][8][9]

It was early 2000 when Greenspan with his business partners Max Blankfeld and Jim Warren officially launched Family Tree DNA.[1] Initially, the Arizona Research Labs at the University of Arizona performed all testing for Family Tree DNA. Family Tree DNA includes among its scientific staff, Dr. Michael Hammer (PhD), one of a team of scientists that first published on the Cohen Modal Haplotype in 1997 in the journal Nature.[6]

Family Tree DNA began with a proof in concept group of twenty-four that returned results in January. They began by offering 12 Y-chromosome STR marker tests much like those used in many scientific publications of the time in March 2000. Family Tree DNA became widely known for its Y-chromosome STR testing for the Cohen Modal Haplotype.[10]

Soon, they were offering not only DNA tests but an interface by which dedicated genealogists could run surname research studies. The first person to create such a project through the Family Tree DNA site was Doug Mumma. It was the Mumma project.[10]

Early testing (2000–2006)[edit]

The first tests offered by Family Tree DNA were Y-chromosome STR and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tests like those used by published academic studies at the time.[11]

Family Tree DNA's initial Y-chromosome tests were described as 11 marker tests. They eventually began to call this a 12 STR marker test as one of the STRS (DYS385) almost always had two copies. This they billed as a method to affirm or disprove a genealogical connection on the direct paternal line.[citation needed]

Family Tree DNA's first mtDNA tests were for HVR1 (hypervariable region 1) of the mtDNA.[citation needed] Eventually, they added a Plus test that tested for both HVR1 and HVR2.[citation needed]

In the early days, they did not confirm haplogroups for either mtDNA or Y-DNA.[citation needed]

Opening of the Genomics Research Center[edit]

In 2006, Family Tree DNA bought out the assets of DNA-Fingerprint, which was a German paternity testing company that offered à la carte testing to the genetic genealogy testing community. With this buyout, Thomas and Astrid Krahn, who had owned DNA-Fingerprint, moved to Houston, Texas, and helped open the Genomics Research Center.[citation needed]

The Genomics Research Center initially did testing for many of the same products that had been sold by DNA-Fingerprint. They began to offer individual and panels of Y-chromosome SNP tests using Sanger testing methods. They also offered the mtDNA full genome test and upgrades to it using the Sanger testing method.[citation needed]

Soon came the launch of the Walk Through the Y (WTY) test. The WTY test offered the most adventurous of citizen scientists the chance to seek the discovery of new Y-chromosome SNPs.[12]

Meanwhile, most testing continued to be done at the University of Arizona lab. The demand for additional test types led Greenspan and Blankfeld to move all testing to their own testing lab in Houston, Texas under the Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. parent company.[1]


Between 2007 and 2010, Family Tree DNA forged several new partnerships that allowed them to access additional international markets.


The first of Family Tree DNA's new partnerships was with the Switzerland-based iGENEA company. It was formed alongside the closing of DNA-Fingerprint and Thomas Krahn's helping open the Genomic Research Center in Houston. Their website is available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.[13][14]

African DNA

In late 2007, Henry Louis Gates, PhD created African DNA in partnership with Family Tree DNA to help promote genetic testing for personal ancestry among African Americans.[15]

DNA Ancestry & Family Origin

DNA Ancestry & Family Origin DNA Ancestry & Family Origin is a genetic genealogy testing partnership between Family Tree DNA and Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences. Their website is available in both English and Arabic.[16]


In November 2008, a dynamic partnership with MyHeritage was launched, allowing users to incorporate DNA testing and advanced family tree technologies into their family history research. MyHeritage is a website offering online, mobile and software platforms for discovering, preserving and sharing family history worldwide.[17]

DNA testing products[edit]

Autosomal DNA testing[edit]

In May 2010, Family Tree DNA launched an autosomal microarray chip based DNA test. They called the new product Family Finder. The initial product used an Affymetrix microarray chip, but Family Tree DNA changed to the Illumina OmniExpress chip and retested all customers who had results from the Affymetrix chip for forward compatibility.[18]

Family Finder allows customers to match relatives as distant as about fifth cousins. Family Finder also includes a component called myOrigins. The results of this test provide percentages of a DNA associated with general regions or specific ethnic groups (e.g. Western Europe, Asia, Jewish, Native American, etc.). Notably, unlike other testing companies, they chose to strip out markers for mendelian medical issues,[19][20][21] mtDNA results, and Y-DNA SNP results.

Y DNA testing[edit]

The company markets a range of Y-DNA tests. the Y-chromosome is inherited from father to son, so testers can discover relatives with the same patrilineage. In many cultures these relatives will often share the same surname, since surnames are also inherited father to son. These tests cover 37-111 STR markers depending on the test, and vary in price according to the number of markers covered.[18] Once an individual has tested at least 12 STR markers,[22] he may take the "Big Y" test. Big Y tests approximately 20,000 SNPs.

mtDNA testing[edit]

Family Tree DNA also sells mtDNA testing, offering the choice of either a limited hypervariable region test, or a full sequence test of the entire mitochondrial DNA chromosome.[18]

Genographic Project[edit]

Family Tree DNA staff were instrumental in developing the Geno 2.0 Next Generation product for the second phase of the Genographic Project.[23] Geno 2.0 samples for both public and scientific study were run at the Genomics Research Center in Houston, Texas (operated by Family Tree DNA's parent company, Gene by Gene, Ltd.) until 2016, when Geno 2.0 began utilizing Helix for DNA sequencing.[24][25]

Gene by Gene[edit]

In September 2012, Greenspan and Blankfeld restructured Family Tree DNA's parent company, Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. This included their renaming Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. as Gene by Gene, Ltd.[26][27][28][29] After restructuring, the business comprises four divisions one of these being Family Tree DNA for genealogical DNA tests. It is Gene by Gene, Ltd. that now operates the Genomics Research Center (GRC) lab in Houston, Texas.[26][29][30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bradford, Nicole (February 24, 2008). "Riding the 'genetic revolution'". Houston Business Journal. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  2. ^ "Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart". ISOGG. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  3. ^ Capper, Russ (November 15, 2008). "Bennett Greenspan of". The BusinessMakers Radio Show. Retrieved June 14, 2013.
  4. ^ Dardashti, Schelly Talalay (March 30, 2008). "When oral history meets genetics". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved June 14, 2013. Greenspan, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, has been interested in genealogy from a very young age; he drew his first family tree at age 11.
  5. ^ a b Lomax, John Nova (April 14, 2005). "Who's Your Daddy?". Houston Press. Retrieved June 14, 2013. A real estate developer and entrepreneur, Greenspan has been interested in genealogy since his preteen days.
  6. ^ a b Skorecki, Karl; Selig, Sara; Blazer, Shraga; Bradman, Robert; Bradman, Neil; Waburton, P. J.; Ismajlowicz, Monica; Hammer, Michael F. (January 1, 1997). "Y chromosomes of Jewish priests". Nature. 385 (6611): 32. doi:10.1038/385032a0. PMID 8985243.
  7. ^ "National Genealogical Society Quarterly". 93 (1–4). National Genealogical Society. 2005: 248. Businessman Bennett Greenspan hoped that the approach used in the Jefferson and Cohen research would help family historians. After reaching a brick wall on his mother's surname, Nitz, he discovered and Argentine researching the same surname. Greenspan enlisted the help of a male Nitz cousin. A scientist involved in the original Cohen investigation tested the Argentine's and Greenspan's cousin's Y chromosomes. Their haplotypes matched perfectly.
  8. ^ Gibbens, Pam (April 2006). "Talk of The Town – At Familytree DNA, it's all Relative". Greater Houston Weekly / Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  9. ^ Belli, Anne (January 18, 2005). "Moneymakers: Bennett Greenspan". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved June 14, 2013. Years of researching his family tree through records and documents revealed roots in Argentina, but he ran out of leads looking for his maternal great-grandfather. After hearing about new genetic testing at the University of Arizona, he persuaded a scientist there to test DNA samples from a known cousin in California and a suspected distant cousin in Buenos Aires. It was a match. But the real find was the idea for Family Tree DNA, which the former film salesman launched in early 2000 to provide the same kind of service for others searching for their ancestors.
  10. ^ a b Bopp, Georgia. "DNA Genealogy Timeline Genetic Genealogy".
  11. ^ "Family Tree DNA Review - Everything You Need to Know About FTDNA Tests". 2017-08-14. Retrieved 2017-09-12.
  12. ^ Walk Through the Y (WTY)
  13. ^ "Family Tree DNA takes root in Europe". Houston Business Journal. Houston, TX.
  14. ^ iGENEA web site, accessed February 23, 2015
  15. ^ "Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Joins Forces With Family Tree DNA To Launch". Retrieved June 23, 2007.
  16. ^ "DNA Ancestry Website, Homepage". Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  17. ^ "Try our family offer to trace your ancestors using genetics and FamilyTreeDNA". MyHeritage. November 2008.
  18. ^ a b c "DNA Testing Kits for Ancestry & Finding Relatives". Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  19. ^ Roberta Estes (30 December 2013). "Promethease – Genetic Health Information Alternative". DNAeXplained - Genetic Genealogy. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  20. ^ firemylasers. "SNP coverage analysis/comparisons (23andme v3/v4, AncestryDNA, FTDNA) • r/23andme". reddit. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  21. ^ "I hate the way they delete data from autosomal test - Family Tree DNA Forums". Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  22. ^ "Is BIG Y the only Y-DNA test That You Will Ever Need?". DNA Testing Choice. 2015. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  23. ^ Elhaik, E.; Greenspan, E.; Staats, S.; Krahn, T.; Tyler-Smith, C.; Xue, Y.; Tofanelli, S.; Francalacci, P.; et al. (2013). "The GenoChip: A New Tool for Genetic Anthropology". Genome Biology and Evolution. 5 (5): 1021–31. doi:10.1093/gbe/evt066. PMC 3673633. PMID 23666864.
  24. ^ Geno 2.0 Next Generation National Geographic. June 28, 2018. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  25. ^ Helix DNA Sequencing and Geno 2.0 Helix. January 26, 2018. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  26. ^ a b Moore, Charles (April 24, 2013). "Houston-Based Gene By Gene To Provide Student Clinical Phase Instruction, Training, And Supervision At MD Anderson Cancer Center". BioNews Texas. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
  27. ^ "Gene by Gene". Gene by Gene. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  28. ^ "Supreme Court Ruling Today Allows DNATraits to Offer Low Cost BRCA Breast and Ovarian Cancer Gene Testing in U.S." Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 19, 2013. DNA DTC is the Research Use Only (RUO) division serving both direct-to-consumer and institutional clients worldwide. Gene By Gene offers AABB certified relationship tests through its paternity testing division, DNA Findings. The privately held company is headquartered in Houston, which is also home to its state-of-the-art Genomics Research Center.
  29. ^ a b Estes, Roberta (November 13, 2012). "Family Tree DNA Conference 2012 – Nits and Grits". Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  30. ^ Moore, CeCe (February 9, 2013). "A Visit to Family Tree DNA's State-of-the-Art Lab". Your Genetic Genealogist. Retrieved June 18, 2013.

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