Archiver > GENEALOGY-DNA > 2004-03 > 1079641902

From: Max Blankfeld <>
Subject: [DNA] Processing times
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 2004 14:31:42 -0600
References: <000e01c40d1f$7daaa860$eb218440@hppav><>
In-Reply-To: <>

From Bennett Greenspan:

Dear List,

I would like to share with you a few comments about slow or slower than usual results from Family Tree DNA not because it only describes the birth of an industry, but because so many of you are the reason why.

There are two items to the issue of processing time:

a) Longer processing times due to one or more markers that didn't produce a ‘peak’ on Pherograms (think molecular biology results as a chart)

b) Longer processing times in general

Let us use batch 76 and the preceding 4 batches as an example to address the first of the two items. On those batches we have 6.57% of the tests yet outstanding. Not an abnormal percentage, but I admit, more than we would like it to be.
As we mentioned in a prior e-mail, we make 4 attempts (twice from each tube) before we request a new scrapping: the first run is from vial A. If it fails, it goes to a re-run of vial A. Generally it's one or two markers where we are not getting a clear & unambiguous result.

Examples: your line might not have a marker at a location (ex. DYS 425 and to a lesser extent, DYS 439) or you might have an unexpected duplication like with DYS 19 or you might appear to, and therefore the test is run again.

A second failure takes us to vial B, in the next batch, where again, DNA has to be extracted so that we can repeat the process on the second swab you sent. This procedure takes time; in fact, 1% of the cases we do request a new scrapping from the customer.

Now, when there are 100-200 tests a month, 6.57% or even 15% is a small number that doesn't show up in the public’s radar screen.

Yet, with a few thousand different tests a month (Y-DNA, mtDNA and SNP), 6.57% starts getting visibility in absolute values (as it should) even if by some reasonable standards we are talking about an acceptable percentage.

The questions that remain are: should we send out new kits for a new scrapping after 1 or two test cycles? Should we estimate a value for the marker with less then 100% confidence? Should we find ways to process more quickly each re-run?

Sending a new kit earlier in the process isn't a solution, since the sending of a kit and its return will generally be 2-4 weeks…and in the vast majority of the cases will be unnecessary.

Releasing a value without 100% confidence is "NO, period."

Finding ways to process the re-runs more quickly. Yes. Here is where the answer to the second item at the top of this e-mail will tie in:

Batch 78 and backlogs in current orders. The backlog now (the last 8 week period) has become larger, percentage wise, reflecting on higher absolute values compounded - a result of pretty steadily growing numbers of kit orders that we have been experiencing, as the concept of genetic genealogy keeps gaining wider acceptance.

In the best seller “The Goal,” by Goldratt and Fox, they describe manufacturing as an elimination of bottlenecks in the process.

One of the main reasons for the backlog is the successive volume increases of kits to be extracted, an item that we mentioned in the e-mail that explained why we stopped selling the DNAPrint test. Months before we decided to discontinue sales of DNAPrint we were pushing up against reasonable manual extraction volume constraints.

There are many mechanical steps in the entire process from swab to results. The biggest challenge for us, and one of the benefits for many of you, has been finding a robot for extraction that didn't dramatically lower the yield of the DNA. It's all math, but suffice to say that we have tested 3 different robots and finally settled on one that even though not the fastest, will handle several times our current volume, while also producing the highest yield of actual DNA.

This process started in September, completed in December, the robot was ordered on January 12 and the delivery was 8 weeks. The robot arrived last week and we believe that this current batch (81) was the last that we'll be doing manually...which means we will repurpose about 32 hours of tech time per batch (like back to their real jobs). That time and an additional highly experienced technician that is already in-house should give us the horsepower we need to operate in the way that you and we both want, need and expect.

We are, therefore, about at the end of the backlog situation.

It also needs to be mentioned that even though we discontinued accepting orders for the DNAPrint product about 3 weeks ago to gain more tech time to handle our own customers direct genealogy work, we had several hundred of their tests in house, and the time benefits of that decision won't be translated into tangible gains until the last DNAPrints have worked their way through the system.

I hope that this e-mail gave you a better picture of the birth of an industry and the continual limits caused by growth, which must be tempered by accuracy first and last.

You have helped create an industry where once was stood. The final chapters of genetic genealogies’ stories have not been written…and certainly they will not go exactly the way one expects… future will tell. Will science find a way to allow us to use mtDNA for genealogy instead of Anthropology? Or the Autosomes for genealogy? I contend that none of us know, because it’s applications (science in development) and market driven. I will tell you that I only used to think I worked hard long and …but the chance to combine genealogy, world history, and a job, have been reward and a half for first offering a modest selection of production a few years back.

As Georgia Kinney Bopp mentioned in e-mail a few weeks ago, we are dealing not just with a new science but also with a product without a history of consumer demand. Family Tree DNA wants to reassure you that we are taking all the necessary steps to respond to those challenges in the best possible way, without compromising the quality of the results that we deliver.

As always, we thank you for your continued support.
Bennett Greenspan
CEO and Founder (and loving almost every minute of it!)
Family Tree DNA

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