May 28, 2007


Are Warren and Jimmy Buffett Long Lost Brothers?

By Pamela Mortimer


A new form of DNA has traced a possible link between the King Parrothead and Oracle of Omaha. Could they have something in common besides tons of fans and a load of cash?



Fortune Magazine has finally received its answer to a question that has been burning a hole in its collective brain for eight long years. Are Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett related? Read on fellow inquirers. (You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?)


The DNA technology that provided the answer to the query belongs to a company called 23andMe, co-founded by 33-year-old Yale grad and former health-care industry analyst Anne Wojcicki. The company, 23andMe, derived its name from a human’s 23 paired chromosomes that when decoded, can determine ancestry, mitochondrial DNA, and inherited traits. It’s positively amazing. So amazing that Google invested $3.9 million in the heretofore unknown biotech company.


Ironically, Wojcicki, who headed up the project, married Google billionaire Sergey Brin earlier this month. Neither Warren nor Jimmy knew of the connection between the scientist and their fellow tycoon.


But back to the more important issue – the relationship of the two Buffetts.


We already know that Jimmy and Warren have been long-time friends and fans of each other. In the 1999 article that started it all, Fortune pointed out that both men “play stringed instruments, stick to their guns, and are filthy rich”. Jimmy even surprised his friend earlier this month when he appeared on stage at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. To the delight of fans, Jimmy sang "Wasted Away Again in Berkshire Hathaway-ville". 


It was Ms. Wojcicki who approached Warren Buffett with the proposal to analyze his DNA. The Oracle agreed. So did Jimmy.


Warren’s assistant said that Buffett "just kept spitting into a little receptacle, and then we FedExed it. Not very elegant." Ditto for Jimmy.


A month later, results came back to Wojcicki and her associate Joanna Mountain. The pair called Warren and broke the news.


"I'm as closely related to you as Jimmy is," said Mountain, a former professor of anthropological genetics at Stanford. In fact, the DNA couldn’t prove any definitive link, except for a few possible common ancestors who were residents of a former penal colony in the South Pacific. Other ancestors may be related but researchers would have to seek out records that are over 10,000 years old in order to prove any of it.


"Bottom line: We're not related," Warren wrote to his sister Doris, the genealogist who started it all.


One reporter joked that while the DNA breakthrough answered this burning question once and for all, there was no trace of the lost shaker of salt.