I’ve been a genealogist since I was a teenager. I would boot up my old 1987 IBM XT and input big digital pedigree trees from reams of family history records. I’d stare in amazement at the dates, places and the heritage bequeathed me.
That hobby has remained with me over the last three decades. Some years ago I surprised my grandma by showing her how her mother’s maiden name Moncur was Scottish and not French. Later I was able rekindle her francophone heritage by showing an even more ancient Huguenot ancestry. The journals and mysteries were ever-deepening. Roadblocks were frequent and discovery always brought exciting insights.
Now, I’ve taken it to the next level: DNA testing from Ancestry.com. It was truly my favorite Christmas gift. A discrete vial with barcodes and an envelope was all that was required. Saliva was the key ingredient… less than a tablespoon I think… twist the top… out comes the preservative… into the envelope.
Six weeks later the results are in.
The results were not unexpected. No unforeseen exotic country… 52% Western European, 24% Scandinavian, 14% Great Britain and a few other interesting traces.
Not terrible unlike the chart I had produces at my 8th generation. I can note that I still have a good deal of work to do as my American heritage still needs some tracing to get back to its roots across the pond.
Ancestry.com and other such services derive the “estimated” geo-location of your genomes by testing thousands and thousands of other DNA samples from natives in those areas. Migrations, wars, fertility and mortality rates all come into play and demonstrate that “people” are a pretty fluid thing. My Great Britain heritage of 14% is probably larger because migrations from Europe populated Britain the same way that Britain and Scandinavia populated America.
Think of it this way. There are traces and particular points within the DNA helix that are “exclusive” or “more likely” to be found in a people from a particular area. These can do with pigment, preferences, personality and host of other categories. If your DNA has some of those unique traces or patterns there’s a “likelyhood” (or probability) that your ancestors came from that arena.
But now the good stuff.
Using a $5 online tool called Promethease I was able to upload my DNA results and compare them against the increasingly colossal set of published papers on DNA results.
You’ve no doubt heard of science “mapping” the human genome. In much the same way that Ancestry.com maps DNA probabilities with geography Promethease takes DNA-related studies and maps them to your DNA to determine the “likelihood” that you might encounter the results of that study.
For example at the SNP rs351855 (a position in the DNA) the way that my rs351855 runs indicates that I have 2 times the normal risk for prostrate cancer. Or, in technical terms:
Well replicated and confirmed by clinvar, this rare genotype of the fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 gene influences several forms of cancer progression and tumor cell motility. It is found in \~3% of people.
The report even gives me a magnitude or the amount of attention I should pay to this phenomenon.
Here’s one that more understandable. At SNP gs122 it indicates that I am 7x as likely to be at risk for baldness. My maternal grandfather held his hair until his 90s but it was definitely a receding fight. I’ve known about “baldness” skipping generations so this was an interesting confirmation from the architecture deep in my bod.
But it’s not all bad and it’s not all biological.
At SNP rs53576 the research tells me that I’m optimistic, empathetic and that I handle stress well. The several studies note that my type of people (under 25% in society) “were significantly better at accurately reading the emotions of others by observing their faces that peers.” Apparently I have an awesome oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR) which interacts to influence my emotional support seeking.
I’m also more difficult to hypnotize and I have a memory built for attention tasks. The flip side is I have a lower tolerance for pain. Elsewhere Promethease notes that I have have a lower risk for Bipolar Disorder, lower heart attack risk and a few other noteworthy points to my super powers :)
Now to the ringer! Mom, I hope your paying attention. You should take solace in noting that my difficulty in accepting broccoli had nothing to do with your parenting techniques! My pronounced TAS2R38 gene gave my tastebuds a “acutely more pronounced” reaction to bitter foods. The studies indicate that it wears off by adulthood and it has (I love some well-prepared Brussel Sprouts!)
Needless to say… I’m hooked again. Stay tuned!