Google-funded DNA testing to launch in Europe later this week

Maybe you're related to John Lennon, Hillary Clinton, Genghis Khan, or the Iberians of ancient Spain? Beyond providing social networking, several Google-funded Web sites targeted at North Americans will test your DNA and may give you some genetic clues.

With the demo of Web-enabled DNA testing later this week at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Google's DNA Project -- the basis of a unique type of social networking -- will extend itself to Europe. There, one might locate Dr. Bryan Sykes, a DNA genetics researcher who once found a Florida accountant named Tom Robinson to be a descendant of Genghis Khan.

The Google project -- which draws from the premise that people actually yearn to interact with their family members -- has already spawned sites as GeneTree.com, Canada's DNA Ancestry Project, and 23andMe.com, the creation of Anne Wojcicki, who is the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

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The DNA Ancestry Project, for instance, has been behind the sale of "starter kits" at Best Buy and other stores. These kits contain equipment used to take swab samples of the inner cheek. The DNA samples can then be mailed in to the Web site for genetic analysis.

People in North America are already leveraging DNA sites to network with strangers who've suddenly been revealed as possible ancestors, to trace their heritages back to specific genetic groups, to help figure out whether they'll ever be victimized by genetic diseases, and -- especially if they've been adopted as children -- as an aid to tracking down biological parents and siblings.

Upon using DNA testing services from African Ancestry, Inc., for example, TV personality Oprah Winfrey was told that she was descended from the Zulu tribe of Africa.

But just like other social networking sites such as FaceBook, these Web DNA vehicles tend to include capabilities for members such as messaging and photo posting.

Now, with the upcoming demo on Friday of this week in Davos, Switzerland, Wojcicki will kick off the Google-funded launch of 23andMe.com into both Canada and Europe.

The migration of the genetic tracing endeavor to Europe seems almost certain to point North American DNA social networkers to possible cousins of varying degrees living on the other side of the Atlantic.

Some observers, however, have predicted greater resistance among residents of the UK and other European countries to DNA social networking sites. Critics there have already charged that DNA tests are of questionable value and can also spur unneeded health fears.

But then again, there's the previously mentioned Dr. Sykes, a professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, whose various and famous cases have dealt with people asserting that they're descendants of the Romanovs, the Russian royal family, to cite just one example.

Sykes -- who operates a Web site called "Oxford Ancestors" -- has also attracted considerable controversy over the contents of some of his books, including Blood of the Isles (known in the US and Canada as Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland.)

In that 2006 tome, Sykes argued that the Iberians of Spain traveling northward in Europe, starting as far back as the days of the cavepeople, have borne much more influence on the genetics of the modern British Isles than the Anglo-Saxons and other population groups.

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