Largest single family tree ever created by researchers

Researchers from the Oxford Big Data Institute have created the world's largest family tree, including almost 27 million members.

Published Fri, Feb 25 2022 5:02 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Mar 22 2022 6:15 PM CDT

A study on the family tree titled "A unified genealogy of modern and ancient genomes" has been published in the journal Science.

Largest single family tree ever created by researchers 01 |

Researchers from the University of Oxford's Big Data Institute have developed a method to combine genome sequences from many databases to create a genealogy network of almost 27 million ancestors. By developing algorithms to handle the massive amount of data, the team has taken a major step toward mapping the entire genealogy of the human race and how we are all related to one another.

"We have basically built a huge family tree, a genealogy for all of humanity that models as exactly as we can the history that generated all the genetic variation we find in humans today. This genealogy allows us to see how every person's genetic sequence relates to every other, along all the points of the genome," said Dr. Yan Wong, an evolutionary geneticist at the Big Data Institute, and one of the principal authors.

The study integrates modern and ancient genome data from eight databases, including 3,609 individual genome sequences from 215 populations. The samples of ancient genomes range from thousands to over a hundred thousand years old. The algorithms predicted where common ancestors must be in the evolutionary patterns to explain the genetic variations present, resulting in the massive family tree.

"Essentially, we are reconstructing the genomes of our ancestors and using them to form a vast network of relationships. We can then estimate when and where these ancestors lived. The power of our approach is that it makes very few assumptions about the underlying data and can also include both modern and ancient DNA samples," said lead author Dr. Anthony Wilder Wohns, who undertook the research as part of his Ph.D. at the Big Data Institute and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

"This study is laying the groundwork for the next generation of DNA sequencing. As the quality of genome sequences from modern and ancient DNA samples improves, the trees will become even more accurate and we will eventually be able to generate a single, unified map that explains the descent of all the human genetic variation we see today," Dr. Wong continued.

You can read more from the study here.

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