After this past week, it’s pretty clear that Sen. Elizabeth Warren won’t be touching DNA sequencing anytime in the near future. In fact, it might have derailed her presidential campaign before it (officially) began.
Ironic, given the fact that her first husband was a pioneer in the very field that could prove to be her undoing.
“Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s ex-husband co-founded a DNA testing company and wrote one of the first computer codes for making genetic comparisons,” the Washington Examinerreported Friday. “Jim Warren’s career involved him in the kinds of genetic testing that Elizabeth Warren controversially invoked this month to prove that she had Native American ancestry.
“One of the two other co-founders of his testing company, FamilyTreeDNA, has worked with Carlos Bustamante, the Stanford University geneticist who administered a DNA test at Elizabeth Warren’s request.”
Bustamante is now infamous for his part in Warren’s genetic test, which proved she was at least 1/1024th Native American. She offered this up as corroboration that she wasn’t lying about having some Cherokee blood.
The American polity, for the most part, was 1023/1024th unimpressed.
However, the episode brought her husband’s history with DNA testing back into the spotlight.
“Elizabeth Warren’s previously unreported connection to the family heritage industry is remote and dates back decades but is nevertheless a strand of a controversy that is unlikely to have been put to rest by the Bustamante test,” the Examiner noted.
“The Massachusetts senator, now 69, married Jim Warren when she was just 19. They met when she was in high school in Norman, Okla. They had two children, Amelia Warren Tyagi, now 47, and Alexander Warren, now 42, but divorced in 1978 after 10 years of marriage.”
Jim Warren died in 2006. According to one source close to him, after the divorce “there was no love lost between the two.”
In 2000, however, he founded FamilyTreeDNA, a pioneer in DNA testing kits.
Before founding his own company, Warren had been a “mathematical wizard” at IBM for a quarter-century. His experience with coding helped develop an algorithm that could test for Y-chromosome DNA, which tests patrilineal DNA. He was one of the first to write code that could make comparisons between genetic code,.
Given that the Warren was testing for her mother’s side, it wouldn’t have been possible to use her husband’s test — which became known as the “Warren Project” during his time with the company — to prove that she had an insanely small amount of Native American blood.
Bennett Greenspan, another FamilyTreeDNA founder, has also worked with Carlos Bustamante. In an interview with ABC News, he said that one of the problematic aspects of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test was that sussing out Native American DNA is still a work in progress.
“All of us — at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, My Heritage — we all strive to obtain the fullest, most complete Native American databases simply because Native Americans have historically been unwilling and uninterested in participating in this game of identification,” Greenspan told ABC News.
All in all, this doesn’t mean a whole lot — except for the great irony that the ex-husband with whom she had “no love lost” was so involved in a field which ended up defining her political career so heavily.