Wolfram|Alpha is a powerful tool for finding information about the universe at large, but sometimes we are interested in a much smaller universe: our families. Genealogical research is an increasingly popular hobby, and one which Wolfram|Alpha can make easier using features across several of its subject areas.
We blogged last year about how Wolfram|Alpha can map family relations, which can certainly be more helpful the further your genealogical research takes you from the trunk of your family tree. Recently, another researcher (and previously unknown relative) contacted me. This new connection sent me straight to Wolfram|Alpha to determine our relationship. Her great grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother and, thanks to Wolfram|Alpha, I learned that she is my third cousin.
As we bid adieu to 2010, we want say thank you to all of our loyal blog readers and commenters. Today we’re taking a look back at some of 2010′s most popular Wolfram|Alpha Blog posts. 2010 was a year full of product releases, such as Wolfram|Alpha Widgets and new data for everything from movies to taxes.
These selections are only highlights of the topics we’ve covered in 2010. If you’re feeling really nostalgic, or if you’re new to the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, we invite you to read more in the archives.
Just in time to tackle a common New Year’s resolution, we released “New Physical Activity Data in Wolfram|Alpha”.
After reading “Computing Valentine’s Day with Wolfram|Alpha”, there was little doubt that we speak math, the universal language of love.
Ever wonder which country consumes the most coffee or sugar? In March, we introduced new data that answers these questions in the post “Food for Thought: Consumption Patterns from Around the World”.
In April we were excited to finally be able to share “Stephen Wolfram’s TED Talk: Computation Is Destined to Be the Defining Idea of Our Future”. The inspirational video quickly became a web favorite.
Where did the time go? In May we celebrated Wolfram|Alpha’s first birthday with the post “Wolfram|Alpha: The First Year”.
Just in time for family reunion season, we published “My Cousin’s Cousin’s Niece’s Grandfather Said to Just Ask Wolfram|Alpha”, to help you identify all of those branches on the family tree.
In July we shared “Ask Wolfram|Alpha about Medical Drug Treatments” to introduce a new functionality in Wolfram|Alpha that allows you to compare how your medical conditions and treatment plans compare to those of other patients.
Kids say the darnedest things. In the post “10 Fun Questions Kids Can Answer with Wolfram|Alpha”, we took a look at how Wolfram|Alpha can help you and your little one answer common curiosities. More »
Wolfram|Alpha has many trillions of pieces of data, many of which are facts about people, places, and things. All of this knowledge is built upon a computational engine that allows us to mash up topic areas and do impressive, if not outrageous, computations. In honor of it being Friday, we’ll share a few fun facts to get your mind curious about what else is waiting to be discovered within Wolfram|Alpha.
Fact: Your Halloween Jack-o’-lantern has 40 chromosomes.
Fact: There are 4.3 x 10^6 calories in one short ton of Snickers.
Fact: Lassoing the Moon from Earth will require about 239,200 miles of rope on average!
Fact: 36 degrees was the high temperature in New York City on the day Justin Bieber was born.
These are just few of the fun facts highlighting data areas such as nutrition, species, science, weather, history, and events. What fun facts have you discovered in Wolfram|Alpha?
One thing that is full of confusion is figuring out relationships. It can also be full of surprises, like the fact that Wolfram|Alpha can do it for you. If you follow this blog, you already know that Wolfram|Alpha can figure out and calculate lots of different things, including the moon and planets, and you are about to discover what it can tell you about your relationships.
Or at least relationships between your relatives. For instance, my cousin just had a son”.
We get a family tree, and it tells us that my relationship to my cousin’s son is that he is my first cousin once removed. Confusion resolved.
Like many other Wolfram|Alpha outputs, we get more than we may have expected. A few genealogical properties are related to historical laws, and a few are biological. The plots for sharing a Mendelian trait are given at the bottom after clicking More. This helps me understand how much I may have in common with my new first cousin once removed.
A dominant trait only requires one allele, while a recessive trait requires two. The other piece of information needed to say how likely it is to share a trait is how common it is in the general population. It is possible to share a trait accidentally, and for recessive traits one needs to get the other allele from the other parent. For my cousin’s son, not surprisingly, we see that the probability of sharing a genetic trait in common doesn’t seem to depend much on whether it is dominant or recessive. We are too distantly related to have much in common, and the probability of a shared trait between us depends primarily on the chance coming from the frequency in the general population.
It turns out that most traits are not simple like this, and involve more than one gene and so on, but this gives a general sense of how much we may have in common.
You probably know people who get confused about second cousins and so on, but there is also another category for relationship confusion. More »
We’ve been working diligently for several years to build a vast repository of genetic data into Wolfram|Alpha. At launch time, we had the entire human genome and all known human genes. Now, Wolfram|Alpha has genetic data for 11 different species, from humans and mice to fruit flies and worms. And we’re working hard to get more species in all the time.
These days we’re hearing more and more about how particular genes work, what their functions are, and what happens if a gene becomes mutated and stops functioning correctly. And with the personal genomics movement in full swing, we can even get portions of our own genomes sequenced, with a report detailing for us which gene variants we have and whether any put us at known high risk for diseases like breast cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease.
Well, Wolfram|Alpha makes it really easy to get in-depth information about a gene that interests you.
Take for example the gene SATB1, which recent studies have shown is an important factor in breast cancer growth. Wolfram|Alpha gives you a number of results about this gene. The first information is the standard and alternate names the gene goes by, which are important if you want to look it up in the literature:
After that, Wolfram|Alpha tells us that this gene is on chromosome 3, locus p23, on the minus strand, starting at around 18 megabases along the chromosome. There is then a snippet of the gene’s actual DNA sequence, and we learn that the gene is about 90 kilobases (90,000 base pairs) long, with a picture showing which other genes are close by on the chromosome (in this case, PP1P and KCNH8):