Computing That Serves

Ethnicity Estimation at AncestryDNA


Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 11:00am


Ross Curtis


Quinn Snell

Ross Curtis -
Thursday, November 14 at 11:00am -
1170 TMCB

The AncestryDNA test offers two pieces of information to customers to aid in genealogical discovery. The first, casually referred to as cousin matching, finds shared DNA segments between individuals and uses pedigree information to help cousins find out how they are related. The AncestryDNA test also provides customers with an estimate of the historical origins of their DNA, also known as ethnicity estimation. In this talk, I will be discussing ethnicity estimation at AncestryDNA. I will review the basic process we use to collect data, the algorithms we use to estimate ethnicity, and conclude with a discussion of how the visualization of the results affects consumer perception of the data.


Ross Curtis is a computational biologist with expertise in genetics and visual analytics. Dr. Curtis has been at for nearly two years working on the AncestryDNA product for identity-by-descent matching and ethnicity estimation. In his previous work, Dr. Curtis focused on creating intuitive visual representations of complex statistical genetics analyses, including visual analytics strategies that enabled biologists to analyze full genome data. Using a variety of different organisms, Dr. Curtis used his new strategies to find genetic mutations that contribute to the inheritance of complex traits. Dr. Curtis received a B.S. from Brigham Young University then earned his Ph.D. in Computational Biology from Carnegie Mellon University.