BYU professor linking people together

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    By Angela Pace

    One by one, the human family is being pieced together.

    Scott Woodward, professor of microbiology, is creating a worldwide database to link people together through DNA.

    Woodward is head of the Molecular Genealogy Research Group at BYU and has been working on a project he calls, “molecular genealogy.”

    Its purpose is to create a genetic and genealogical database of modern-day people across the world. The project covers databases in more than 500 world populations and Woodward plans to have it finished in 3 to 4 years, Woodward said.

    The researchers collect information from cell samples found in the human blood, Woodward said.

    These can then be used to determine how people are related to each other genetically, rather than relying on records, he said.

    “Unlike a name, DNA is unique to the individual and can create identities of possible ”missing” individuals,” Woodward said.

    Human DNA has four billion bits of information with properties that can identify an individual, linking them to immediate family or extended family, Woodward said.

    Woodward has done research on students at BYU and of the 650 blood samples drawn, one person was related to nine others within only five generations, he said.

    He has done studies on mummies in Egypt and South America as well as blood samples in the Middle East and across the world.

    “We need people at this point who know something about their genealogy so we can trace those genes throughout the generations,” Woodward said.

    Once Woodward”s team has blood samples and pedigree charts, they can begin putting the information into a large database that already has more than 10,000 people, he said.

    Genetic research of living people will help to create a template with which to build on, said Ugo Perego, director of public relations for the Molecular Genealogy Research Group.

    “Everyone is a living record of those that lived before,” said Perego, 29, a masters of science student from Milan, Italy.

    “Through this, we can reconstruct family lines and work from the bottom up instead of the top down,” Perego said.

    In a fireside Woodward spoke at on molecular genealogy Wednesday night, he said he began the project in August 1999 when he met with President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    “Utah has been deeply involved in human genetics for a long time and this research has only been possible because of the marriage between genetics and genealogy,” Woodward said.

    This is not just a project for Utahns though. All over the world, written records are blocked because of missing information, infidelity or adoption, Perego said.

    “There is definitely a worldwide need for it. People have reached a point where they need help with their genealogical work,” Perego said.

    For the genealogical center, this breaking research is good news, said Raymond Wright, director of the Center of Family History and Genealogy.

    This will be one of the tools genealogists use to verify pedigrees, Wright said.

    “This helps many of the problems we face as genealogists in trying to find unnamed ancestors – in a decade from now, this will just be a step in the process,” Wright said.

    Woodward and his research team are still looking for participants to donate DNA blood samples.

    Those interested can go to S269 ESC with a pedigree chart four generations back. Participants will be paid $10 and asked to donate a small amount of blood.

    See molecular-genealogy.byu.edu for further information.

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