Using Data Science and DNA to Discover Our Ancestral Origins
Using Data Science and DNA to Discover Our Ancestral Origins


Similar to social networks of people and their social relationships (e.g., friends), a genetic network is based upon people and their genetic relationships (e.g., cousins). AncestryDNA has built the world’s largest genetic network of ~10M people. Ahna will discuss innovations in discovering Genetic CommunitiesTM within this network, leveraging family trees and old census records to create data-driven stories about their history, and using machine learning to determine each customer’s genetic communities. The result helps AncestryDNA customers learn more about themselves and where they come from.


Ahna Girshick is fascinated by the intersection of humans and technology. Her research revealed that seemingly irrational perceptual biases have rational evolutionary and biological bases. She has also investigated data visualization and how design choice affects the perception of data patterns. Ahna holds a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in Vision Science, and performed her postdoctoral research at New York University as an NIH Fellow. In her spare time she has moonlighted as a producer of creative music visualization apps with musicians Philip Glass and Björk that have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, NY. She currently works at Ancestry DNA where she uses machine learning to understand patterns in how humans are related to each other and human ancestral origins.

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