SXSW 2015: We’re All Related. The (Big) Data Proves It

AJ Jacobs

Joanna Mountain
Sr Dir of Research
23andMe Inc

Katarzyna Bryc
Population Geneticist
23andMe Inc

Presentation Description

The science behind leading personal genetics company, 23andMe, confirms our relatedness. Using big data from their database of 850,000 – the largest DNA ancestry service in the world – customers have the opportunity to discover dozens or even hundreds of people who share DNA and ancestors.

Inspired by his 23andMe experience, New York Times Bestselling author and journalist, AJ Jacobs, is trying to meet ALL his cousins in person by orchestrating the world’s biggest and most inclusive family reunion in history. The Global Family Reunion endeavors to prove that all humans are related to encourage greater acceptance and tolerance.

23andMe and AJ will discuss how everyone’s related and why it’s important to understand our human connections — they’ll dive into the data with a dash of humor.

Presentation Notes

Everyone is married to their cousin if you go back far enough.

There are scientists studying these trees to see how traits and diseases are passed down.

AJ has invited everyone to a family reunion:


As you go farther and farther out in the tree and compare DNA, it will match less. Each step can be approximated to know how closely related you are to someone else based on how similar your DNA is.

Chromosomes 1-22 have little segments from each parent, grandparent, etc. After about the 2nd or 3rd generation this DNA starts to get fuzzy since there is a random sample happening.

What can I learn from my DNA cousins?

They’ve found that when people connect with their cousins, they do great things.


Everyone has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16, 32, 64…

If in every family, every pair has 2 children, then you’d have 4 first cousins, 16 2nd, 64 3rd, 256, 1024, … That’s just if everyone had 2 kids. As you go back in time, you have more and more cousins.

In the 23andMe database, everyone is about 1-3 hops (cousins) away from one another.

It’s very typical to have 2.7-3% neanderthal genetics.

30,000 years ago a woman had a genetic mutation (the “H” family), and they can see that in people.

On the Y chromosome, there’s an R and J mutation, which originated in Europe and you can see their success at reproducing today.

Over 10% of people in Ireland have red hair, but not everyone with red hair is from Ireland.

There have been studies that revealed 2-3% of people don’t have the father they thought they had.

Posted in SXSW 2015.

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