Dr Michael Hammer, the chief Y-DNA scientist at Family Tree DNA, gave a very interesting and visual presentation about our deep ancestral origins. Scientists have now discovered over 600 single-nucleotide polymorphisms, known as SNPs (pronounced snips), in the Y-chromosome. A SNP is a change in a base in the DNA sequence which occurs over time. These SNPs can be used to identify population groups known as haplogroups. The tree of mankind is now divided into 20 major haplogroups which are designated by letters of the alphabet from A through to T.
Dr Doron Behar, the chief mtDNA scientist at Family Tree DNA, gave an equally interesting talk on mitochondrial DNA and the female line. His enthusiasm for mtDNA was infectious, and he has persuaded me to save up my money to upgrade to the full genome sequence mtDNA test!
Katherine Borges, the Director of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), gave an informative talk about British DNA. She explained how we know Prince Philip's mitochondrial genetic signature, and warned of the limitations of autosomal testing as used for Colin Jackson on Who do you think you are? The DNA haplotypes (genetic signatures) of Prince Philip and other famous people can be found on the ISOGG website.
On Saturday I had the privilege to attend Megan Smolenyak's talk on DNA testing. Megan provided the big story of this year's WDYTYA. DNA testing has now revealed that Chris Haley, the nephew of the African-American writer Alex Haley, author of the historical novel Roots, is of Scottish ancestry. Chris met June Baff-Black, the daughter of his newly found DNA match, at WDYTYA on Saturday. The story has been widely reported elsewhere, and was also featured on the BBC news at breakfast time on Saturday. The best accounts can be found on Dick Eastman's blog, and in The Daily Telegraph.
Family Tree DNA were doing a roaring trade throughout the two days of the show that I attended. The stall always seemed to be crowded with people. There was so much interest that the supply of kits ran out and more had to be drafted in from elsewhere. I was surprised to see so many people swabbing their cheeks to provide the samples on the spot. The show went so well that FTDNA have already decided they will be back next year, and they are hoping to have a bigger area for the DNA talks.