An Alternative to DNA Testing for Your Genealogical Research?

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Exciting news for genealogy enthusiasts interested in DNA research! The Washington Post recently reported that scientists think they may have discovered an emerging technological process that could one day easily complement DNA testing for genealogical researchers.

The new process centers around analyzing the sequencing of proteins in hair strands. Proteins in our bodies are created from “blueprints” or “recipies” embedded within our DNA.  Because everyone’s DNA is slightly different, it was proposed that everybody’s protein sequencing would also be unique.

According to researchers:

“This study demonstrates that quantifiable measures of identity discrimination and biogeographic background can be obtained from detecting genetically variant peptides in hair shaft protein, including hair from bioarchaeological contexts.”

This basically is saying that by analyzing the protein sequencing found in someone’s hair, you can figure out their identity.

The major discussion about what the impact this new discovery will have on society currently focuses on criminal investigation forensics (like on CSI). But does all this mean for genealogists and family historians? What impact will it have on us?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Once we know more about this technology, we will hopefully discover that there is a correlation between being related and similarities in the protein sequencing of two people.
  2. If #1 proves true, protein sequencing analysis might be easier to use than traditional DNA testing because subject samples could me more abundant (you may have a lock of hair from a relative who died a hundred years ago that you couldn’t extract DNA  from, but it could be used for analyzing its protein sequence).  In fact, the study mentioned above used samples from the mid 1700s (very exciting). Getting DNA samples from relatives who lived several hundred years ago can be fairly difficult.
  3. We could now have another independent evidence that we could use along side DNA research to further prove/support our research or find relatives. It will give DNA testing a bit of competition, but I think the two technologies will coexist and complement each other.
  4. This technology could open up new opportunities in the genealogical industry. A whole new branch even!

This technology could  revolutionize how we do and prove things as genealogists. I’m optimistic and enthusiastic about the preliminary results. But that being said, there needs to be an understanding that this first study still needs to be verified and replicated by other scientists to show its validity with larger sample sizes. I anticipate hearing the results of such studies and will be following subsequent developments very closely.

You can read the research study methodology and results yourself here.

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