Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation

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The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) was an independent DNA and genealogical research institution with the goal of demonstrating how the peoples of the world are related. SMGF collected DNA samples and genealogical information from individuals across the globe to establish these connections.


SMGF originated in 1999 and was inspired by several conversations between inventor and philanthropist James LeVoy Sorenson and Brigham Young University professor Dr. Scott Woodward.[1] Mr. Sorenson envisioned the development of a genetic-genealogical blueprint of all humankind. This blueprint, as developed by Dr. Woodward, would show how closely humans are related to one another, demonstrating the familial relationships between unique individuals. The collection of DNA samples and associated family pedigrees began in 2000, beginning first with Brigham Young University students, and quickly branching outside of Utah, then to the rest of the world.

In 2003, SMGF moved its operations from the Brigham Young University campus to Salt Lake City. SMGF also outsourced all of its laboratory work to Sorenson Genomics, freeing researchers to create a publicly available online repository. This repository is known as the Sorenson Database.

SMGF collected more than 100,000 DNA samples and familial pedigrees from donors around the world, all of which were available in the Sorenson Database.[2] And now they have been acquired by with its launch of AncestryDNA.[3]

Sorenson Database[edit]

The Sorenson Database contains more than 100,000 DNA samples and familial pedigrees, encompassing 2.8 million genealogical records and 2.4 million genotypes.

The Sorenson Database matches genetic information with familial surnames. A person searching through the database is able to find both genetic and genealogical matches, but can search using either DNA haplotypes or familial surname. The average family pedigree contains six generations of pedigree information (more than 150 years) with over 6 million genetically linked ancestors.

Currently, the Sorenson Database has two areas for individuals to search, a Y chromosome database and a mitochondrial DNA database. The Y-DNA database allows males to search their direct paternal line; the mtDNA database allows both males and females search their direct maternal line.

Y-chromosome Database:

The Y chromosome is passed on from father to son with little changes to Y-DNA. Surnames also tend to generally be passed on from father to son. The Sorenson Database uses Y-chromosome genetic markers and surnames to determine common ancestors. Users can upload DNA results and pedigree charts obtained from other sources. They can search for ancestors using their surname, genetic marker values obtained through their DNA analysis or a combination of the two. The database also has genetic marker default values if users do not have their own genetic information.[4]

The Y-DNA test analyzes similarities in Y-chromosome DNA markers, corresponding to specific locations on the Y chromosome. Markers have Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) that involve repeats of 2-5 DNA base pairs.[5] The number of STRs in a 36-marker haplotype is compared between the sample given and the database to determine relatedness.[6] Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) are also examined. Y-chromosome SNPs are rare and can be used to separate populations of men or haplogroups and can be used in population studies.[7]

Mitochondrial Database:

Both males and females inherit their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from their mother, which allows mtDNA to determine a maternal line. The Sorenson Database compares mitochondrial DNA from over 76, 000 people in their mitochondrial database to find cousins connected across generations. Users can upload their mtDNA results from other commercial labs.[8]

The mtDNA test examines three regions of the D-loop of mtDNA: HVR1, HVR2 and HVR3.[9] Mutations in these areas of mtDNA are extremely rare and have likely not changed between maternal-line cousins within the last 500 years. Therefore, looking at mutations in these areas can determine maternal lineages. Submitted samples of mtDNA are compared to the Cambridge Reference Sequence (CRS) of mtDNA.[10] Samples are then compared to each other based on their differences with the CRS. If samples are exact matches, they are likely from the same maternal line within the last 500 years. If samples have one difference, it is extremely rare but possible that they are from the same maternal line.[11]


One of the missions of SMGF is to connect any two individuals in the world, showing both individuals how they are related. In order to accomplish this goal, SMGF has collected DNA samples and correlated familial pedigrees from participants around the world.[12] After reaching their 100,000 sample goal, SMGF modified their goals to focus less on collecting new samples and more on analysis of previous samples.[13] New participants are still accepted through SMGF's subsidiary, GeneTree. Also, previous SMGF participants can buy their DNA report through[14]

Another one of the goals of SMGF is to advance research in the scientific field of molecular genealogy. SMGF conducts research to identify additional DNA markers which link an individual to their genealogical family, however direct or distant. SMGF researchers have published a number of research papers,[15] many of which involve collaborations with other researchers.

DNA collection for the project initially involved drawing blood samples; since August 2002, the SMGF has used a mouthwash-based collection method (GenetiRinse), which has the advantage that it can be mailed to participants living in remote areas.

Controversy and Shutdown[edit]

In May 2015, took down the SMGF website, citing that "the site has been used for purposes other than what was intended, forcing [] to cease operations on the site."[16] The action by was taken in response to news revelations claiming that the SMGF database had been used by and local law enforcement, without any court oversight [eg, a warrant] and in violation of SMGF's privacy policy, to try to tie criminal suspects to crime scenes.[17] Although the actions in the case by all parties, particularly and the local law enforcement, were eventually recognized to have followed proper constitutional procedures of privacy protection and court oversight in the case,[18] the scandal significantly impacted's reputation and led to the decision to deactivate the website and mothball the SMGF database.


External links[edit]

Official sites

News articles