Wondering who you are? New site wants to tell you

LOS ANGELES Tue Oct 23, 2007 12:51am EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A new Web site called GeneTree.com wants to help answer the question "Who am I?" by combining DNA data with information-sharing technology popularized by News Corp's MySpace.com and Google Inc's YouTube.

The site, which launches on Tuesday at www.genetree.com, promises to give users the tools to build a family tree that reaches back before written records and into Africa and other far-away lands.

"GeneTree provides a fun and compelling way to interact with friends and extended family while leaving the priceless legacy of a richly documented family history," said GeneTree Chief Executive James Lee Sorenson.

GeneTree has roots in a collection of companies founded by Utah billionaire James LeVoy Sorenson -- who parlayed a gain from the sale of his company to Abbott Labs into a massive fortune -- and his son James Lee Sorenson.

It taps the assets of those other family holdings in its bid to take ancestor-tracking beyond the limits of established genealogical records sites.

GeneTree has exclusive rights to a database owned by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, which by year-end should represent about 100,000 people and about 6 million ancestral links from around the world, according to the company.

It also incorporates digital video compression and encoding software from Sorenson Media.

Users who choose to have genetic analysis done may choose from several types of mitochondrial DNA tests that range in price from $99 to $149. Sorenson Genomics will perform the DNA analysis.

Scott Woodward, director of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, said mitochondrial DNA offers a deep look into our ancestry.

"We can trace mitochondrial DNA to a single woman," said Woodward, referring to a woman called Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.

The DNA used to reconstruct genealogy is not very useful for tracking diseases, but it is extremely helpful for making ancestral connections, he said.

All the same, GeneTree's operators say they protect privacy by giving users the option to share such things as names, family photos and audio and video clips with new-found "relatives."

While GeneTree is not alone in adding DNA services in a bid to fill in the blanks left by history, the company says its ultimate goal is different.

Ancestry.com recently started offering Sorenson DNA testing through its new DNA Ancestry service.

"GeneTree does not see DNA Ancestry as a direct competitor," said spokesman David Parkinson.

Parkinson said the business model for The Generations Network of sites, which includes Ancestry.com, MyFamily.com, Genealogy.com and others, is to provide subscribers with genealogical records.

"Our core business focus has always been in genetic genealogy," he said.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein)

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