Yaniv Erlich

How we're building the world's largest family tree

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About Yaniv Erlich

Yaniv Erlich is fascinated by the connection between DNA and data. As a professor and researcher at Columbia University and as CSO of MyHeritage.com, he has performed foundational work in genetic privacy and large-scale studies of crowd-sourced genomic data. Dubbed by the journal Nature as the “Genome Hacker,” he and his team discovered a privacy loophole enabling re-identification of allegedly anonymous male research participants using just internet searches and their Y chromosome. Later, he discovered that 60% of all US individuals with European descent can be identified by forensic genetics using open genetic genealogy databases, which was dubbed by Science magazine as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2018. He is also responsible for the construction of the world’s largest family tree comprising 13 million people, as well as the development of the website DNA.land, which has compiled the genotypes of more than 150,000 donors, and has also worked to discover the genetic bases for several conditions in Israeli families. Yaniv's team has demonstrated stable DNA data storage, reaching a density of 215 petabyte per gram of DNA. He’s been awarded numerous prizes, has published over 45 papers, and authored 7 patents.

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About This Talk

Often we equate breakthroughs with studying the new and unknown, but sometimes the answers to our questions are in our past. For example, in terms of individual health implications, genetic genealogy has led to some eye-opening findings. As Yaniv shares, he and his team "...found that genetic variations explain only 15% of the differences in lifespan between individuals...It means that our actions can matter more.” In relation to society at large, the study of genetic genealogy has been applied to cold cases and has aided law enforcement agencies to resolve previously unsolvable cases.

Watch Ehrlich's TEDMED 2018 Talk to learn more about how genetic genealogy and large-scale DNA mapping is changing our perception of the role genetics plays in longevity and the way we fight crime. 

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