TRIBES: Using Ancestry to fight ALS

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1. Please give a summary of your research.

Did you know that 200 years of inbreeding in the Hapsburg dynasty led to its extinction due to genetic disorders [1] ? Knowing relationship status is important for diagnosing and treating genetic diseases. However, very rarely do people know who their distant 4thcousin is. 

I have developed ‘TRIBES’, a software tool that enables the discovery of distant relatives based on their genome. I was inspired to build this tool to help unravel the genetic causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a devastating neurodegenerative disease leading to paralysis and death within 5 years of diagnosis. Around 1 in 5000 Australians over 50 suffer from ALS and with no knowledge of triggers or effective treatment, this disease will grow in prevalence with the aging population. Around 90% of ALS patients have no known relatives affected. However, we have evidence that some of these patients, do have unknown relatives who also suffer from ALS.

Using ‘TRIBES’ along with genome sequence data from 750 Australian ALS patients, I am able to uncover cryptic relationships between patients. My tool is 10 times faster and as accurate as existing gold standard tools. Speed is important for rapid treatment start on this fast progressing disease. In addition to relationship status, ‘TRIBES’ identifies the genomic region which is shared between relatives, substantially narrowing the search space for the genomic origin of ALS.

Novel genetic triggers identified by ‘TRIBES’ will lead to early diagnosis and offer new therapeutic candidates. This will enable earlier clinicalintervention and thus improve life expectancy. My innovative and user-friendly software ‘TRIBES’ can be used in a wide range of applications: From family planning and disease gene detection, to forensic investigations or even to discover who your 4thcousin is.


1.     Alvarez G et. al. The role of inbreeding in the extinction of a European royal dynasty.PLoS One. 2009;4(4)

2. Please include any additional details you would like to share

My research focuses on developing computational approaches to unravel the genetic causes of ALS.  This is part of a larger collaboration with Macquarie University and Project MinE to fight ALS. Project MinE is an international consortium of 19 countries and over 500 Researchers who together are sequencing genomes from 15,000 ALS patients. Through this collaboration we have published ground-breaking research which identifies novel ALS genes [1]. This collaboration will facilitate many researchers world-wide to use 'TRIBES' software I have developed. Ultimately this will lead to discovery of further novel ALS genes and enable earlier diagnosis and treatment of ALS patients. 


1.     Nicolas A, Kenna KP, Renton AE, [et. al.including Twine NA.] Genome-wide Analyses Identify KIF5A as a Novel ALS Gene.Neuron. 2018 Mar. 


Elizabeth Woollacott
about 2 years ago

This is extraordinary research and the applications for this tool are pretty mind blowing. Awesome work! Hope you win!!!

Liz Marland
about 2 years ago

Well done Natalie and your team - good luck I hope you win too

Lukas Oka
about 2 years ago

Go Nat! Love the work. Fantastic!!!

Tony Harding
about 2 years ago

Good luck Natalie! Hope you win.

Leanne Sheppard
about 2 years ago

Well done great research

Nataša Pokupčić
about 2 years ago

Well done, hope you win

Steven Spanton
about 2 years ago

Good luck! Awesome tool.

Lynette Bester
about 2 years ago

I’m so proud of you!

Angela Cowley
about 2 years ago

Awesome work Natalie! Good luck!

Nick Jain
about 2 years ago

All the best, Natalie! This is for such a good cause. Hope you win.

Dylan Carroll
about 2 years ago

Good luck Nat, very worthy cause

Melissa Morris
about 2 years ago

It’s amazing how’s much we can achieve with your software tool - a clear winner!

Philip Vint
about 2 years ago

Well done Natalie; this is fabulous!

Caroline Downing
about 2 years ago

Such an exciting project - well done Natalie and good luck!

Barbara Toson
about 2 years ago

Great work

Jana D'Labaya
about 2 years ago

Good luck ???

Clare King
about 2 years ago

Well done and good luck!

Hanna Hildenbrand
about 2 years ago

Good luck


Dr Natalie Twine is a postdoctoral fellow in the CSIRO transformational bioinformatics team and a visiting fellow at Macquarie University. Her research focuses on using genomic and 'big data' techn...

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