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FTDNA’s 13th IGG Conference Lab Tour - Mon, 13 Nov 2017

#FTDNA2017 – What a great conference! So many people I could talk to at a technical level and so many that I learned from. I averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per night just because the day was so full, every morning was an early wakeup, and I had to watch Saturday Night Live. I left Winnipeg with 5 cm (2 inches) of snow on the ground and –10 C (14 F) temperatures, and Houston was 20 to 25 C (68 F to 77 F) but I wasn’t outside more than 5 minutes in those 4 days.

The morning after the Conference, I was signed up for the 9 a.m. Lab Tour at Family Tree DNA. Judy Russell and I shared a Lyft ride from the hotel to the FTDNA headquarters. That was my first ever ride of that type and I was impressed by both the service and the price and how you pay online (and tip online) and don’t have to mess with either cash or credit with the driver. But I can still say I’ve still never taken a Uber, which we don’t have in Winnipeg. (My taxi driver on the way home from the airport told me both Uber and Lyft will be starting in Winnipeg in February.)

The hour long Lab tour was something special. First of all, how often is your tourguide the President of the company? Bennett Greenspan got a dozen of us to put on white lab coats and those who had open toed shoes had to put disposable socks on, which were supplied.

I’m a software guy, and hardware baffles me. This is ALL hardware. We started with a robotic sorter, that placed several dozen samples into units that hold (I can’t remember any numbers so I’ll estimate everything) about 60 in each unit. These get placed in cases. Since everyone gives 2 samples, one goes for the current test and the other goes into 25 year storage.

We then saw the very large storage unit that is designed to store 2 million samples long term. This unit is not in service yet. It is the one talked about yesterday that they had to crane up to the 8th floor and remove the window to get it in.

We then were shown various DNA decoders ranging from the newest – a very slick looking device about the size of a washing machine costing a million dollars (Bennett said that particular cheque was hard to write), to two of the oldest that were of the type used to decode the first genome at a cost of billions of dollars. It took 100 of these devices and they cost $250,000 each. Bennett keeps them around because, although they are much slower, they do everything and are the gold standard against which they measure and check the newer machines.

We also saw and were given a glass chip to look hold and inspect. It is like and about the size of the glass slides you’d use with a microscope. It contained 24 small rectangles. Each of those is the results of a sample and is infused with the 700,000 SNP values from the sample.

There were way more steps than this, and I am amazed that this can even be done. Family Tree DNA is proud of their lab and its certifications and is continuously working to make improve the process with automation and increase throughput while maintaining quality control. Very impressive!

Photos were not allowed during the tour. To give you a feeling of the whole thing, the best I can do is provide a YouTube video by Family Tree DNA which shows and describes some of their lab equipment. It was made in 2015 so does not include the latest equipment, but gives you a good idea as to what it looks like, and the description is much better than my recollection of what Bennett said.

If you’re ever in Houston, see if Family Tree DNA is giving lab tours and sign up for one. After you’ve done that, then you can go see NASA (which I didn’t get to go to).

Below are my posts about each day of the Conference:

Jennifer Zinck posted a set of extensive notes from the Conference:

Judy Russell wrote a nice article about Michael Hammer’s talk:

Maurice Gleeson has his 2 talks from the Conference on YouTube:

Rob van Drie posted this report in German:


Followup: After telling my daughter who has a genetics degree about my lab tour, she told me she learned about the whole process in her molecular biology course. And she pointed me to the following video which I simply must pass on:

The PCR Song, from 2008. (Polymerase Chain Reaction)

    1 Comment           comments Leave a Comment

    1. heyjude0701 (heyjude0701)
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    Joined: Tue, 14 Nov 2017
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    Posted: Tue, 14 Nov 2017  Permalink

    Thanks so much for your comments on the FTDNA conference! I wasn’t able to attend this year, and so I really appreciate your summaries about the events each day. wish I could have been there to network.


    The Following 2 Sites Have Linked Here

    1. Best of the Genea-Blogs - 12 to 18 November 2017 - Genea-Musings - Randy Seaver : Mon, 20 Nov 2017
      FTDNA’s 13th IGG Conference Lab Tour by Louis Kessler on Louis Kessler's Behold Genealogy blog.

    2. FTDNA\'s 13th International Genetic Genealogy Conference and the FTDNA sale - Cruwys news - Debbie Kennett : Mon, 20 Nov 2017
      Conference reports from Louis Kessler. Louis Kessler is a first-time conference attendee. He provides an interesting perspective and has also shared a selection of photographs.

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