Monday, November 3, 2008

Genetic Ancestry

National Geographic is building an ancestry database. It's called the Genographic Project, and it's cheaper but much less specific than the 23andme/ genetic test:

For $99.95, you will get a kit in the mail where you provide some DNA for analysis. This is accomplished by scraping the inside of your cheek and then placing the samples in a watery solution to ship to National Geographic. My first sample didn't work, probably because I ate food too close to the scraping, but my second sample had enough DNA for analysis. It turns out I am a member of the Haplogroup J and J2. Wikipedia has a good entry on this haplogroup:

Apparently, my particular haplogroup is shared by everyone from Greeks to Italians to Iranians to Sephardic Jews. Here is the particular breakdown of shared ancestry, from Wikipedia and National Geographic:

Iraqis 29.7%, Lebanese 29.5%, Syrians 29%, Sephardic Jews 29%, Kurds 28.4% , Turks 27.9%, Georgians 26.7%, Iranians 23.3%, Ashkenazi Jews 23.2%, Greeks 22.8%, Italians 19.3%, Tajiks 18.4%, and southern Spaniards 10%.

Wikipedia had a more expansive list than the National Geographic results, so after you receive your haplogroup results, you should view the relevant Wikipedia entry for more information.

I'm not sure what these results really show. Much of it is probably based on the program's original ancestry database. For example, if not enough Persians are in the original database, then fewer samples will be classified as Iranian. I'd be very interested in seeing how National Geographic set up its original ancestry database before it cross-compared new DNA samples.

My sister also did the test and her haplogroup is found disproportionately among the Finnish in Finland. So it appears she and I are a combination of Mediterranean and Scandinavian ancestry. What does it all mean? Who knows? My Mediterranean side prefers warmer weather, so maybe I will stay put in California. On the other hand, perhaps this will convince me to go to Finland one day and visit. I've always liked Matt Damon's character in Good Will Hunting, and Damon is Finnish-American. On the other hand, apparently Aileen Carol Wuornos (a serial killer) is Finnish-American, too. It just goes to show you there's not much you can glean from genetic data.

Even so, if some government official from Finland sees this post and wants to offer me a free trip to the Motherland, I'd happily accept--I mean, there's nothing wrong with a country taking care of one of their long-lost emigrants, right? I'll go brush up on my Finnish--especially these two phrases: Minä en ymmärrä suomea, and Puhutteko englantia?

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