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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, July 30, 2016

DNA and the Human Journey

Copyright © 2016
by Ralph F. Couey

In recent years, I have developed a growing interest in the history of my family.  Not just the last couple generations, but going back a couple of millennia.  Through some basic research, I had decided that our family was primarily from France, sparking a visit to the remains of the de Coucy castle in northeast France last summer.  After Louis XIV outlawed Protestantism, my progenitors emigrated to County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland for a century or so, before finally arriving in South Carolina in the 17th century.  Now, with DNA analysis available to the general public, people are able to trace back even further with greater depth.

Out of all the choices out there, I decided to go with National Geographic's Genographic project.  There are others, Ancestry, 23Me for example, but NG has a sort of cachet with me, after growing up with their magazine.

I went online and ordered the kit, paying a reduced price as they were holding a sale at the time.  It arrived about a week later.  Inside the attractive box was instructional paperwork, two swabs, and two containers.  Following the directions carefully, I swabbed the insides of my mouth and dropped the cotton tips into the two containers which I then sealed.  The two containers went into a padded envelope along with a card containing a code which would be used to identify the samples.  That same code was printed in three different places inside the box, for obvious reasons.  Lose the code, and you have no way of tracking the results. 

I went back online and registered, using the code.  I then sat back and waited.  This process takes a long time.  I sent the samples around May 23rd.  I went online occasionally to track the process.  NG acknowledged receiving the samples, and when they had gleaned the DNA samples and applied them to their database.  Finally, around July 21st, I received an email informing me that the analysis was complete and I could read the results.

Eagerly, I logged on.  There were two documents.  One was a simple chart (at the top of this post), the other a 16-page report.  It took three read-throughs before I clearly understood the results.

Basically, human DNA is identified as haplotypes, which are grouped into haplogroups.  I'm going to share Wikipedia's explanation here...

"A haplotype is a group of genes in an organism that are inherited together from a single parent.  A haplogroup is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor with a single-nucleotide polymorphism mutation.  More specifically, a haplogroup is a combination of alleles at different chromosomes regions that are closely linked and that tend to be inherited together. As a haplogroup consists of similar haplotypes, it is usually possible to predict a haplogroup from haplotypes. Haplogroups pertain to a single line of descent, usually dating back thousands of years.  As such, membership of a haplogroup, by any individual, relies on a relatively small proportion of the genetic material possessed by that individual."

The two most studied haplogroups are the Y-chromosome (male ancestry), and mitochondrial DNA (female ancestry).  Within the genetic information are markers that identify specific branches linked to the patterns of human interaction and migration.  So, I got two results, one from my female side, the other from the male side.

As the chart above shows, my female side is associated with Neanderthal, the human ancestor that ranged over central Europe between 300,000 and 40,000 years ago.  They mated with the modern human and eventually went extinct.  But going back to the beginning, my ancestors arose with branch L-3 in East Africa.  L-3 was apparently the first human group to leave Africa, heading into the Sinai Peninsula and what is now Egypt, the Nile Basin and the Eastern Mediterranean.  After that, haplogroup R emigrated across the Caucasus Mountains into Southern Russia and the neighboring country of Georgia.  A branch of this group shows up in Central Asia, the Indus Valley, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Arabia.  Some of them ended up in Europe as Cro-Magnon.

The move into Western Europe began with branch HV.  The parent haplogroup H birthed the Aurignacian Culture who were innovaters in early tool-making.  During the Ice Age, they went south into Iberia and Italy until the glaciers retreated.  During this time, life was hard and the population of group H actually bottlenecked into less than 10,000 individuals.  Group H can be found in the people of Rome and,Athens.  Interestingly, 61% of people from Ireland are in this group.

A different branch, H1, migrated into the Nordic countries, populating Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, along with Northern Ireland.

My paternal DNA track is a bit different.  The root branch, P305, arose out of  Africa, possibly the Rift Valley, and modern-day Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.  A later branch, P143, showed up in Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia.  The M89 branch migrated through Iran into Central Asia and from the Middle East into the Balkans.

Branch P128 left Southwest Asia for Europe.  Another branch, M45, has been identified with pre-Columbian lineages in the Americas. 

One of the most surprising results showed that one branch, M343, spread from Central Europe all the way to Korea, something that will surprise our Korean daughter-in-law.

Branch M269 created the first settled agricultural communities in Europe, spreading into Wales and Ireland.  Two branches, P310 and P312 show up in the DNA histories of France, and L21 is exclusively France and Ireland, which helped to settle one question.

Out of all that, came the final numbers. Britain and Ireland constitute 53% of my genetic parts.  27% is from Western and Central Europe, which covers France. 17% is Scandinavian and 3% is from Arabia.

 My first reference population is Britain and Ireland.  My second reference population was a surprise.  Scotland.  Who knew?

The big debate in our family was whether we were French or Irish.  The rest of the family figured France, after all, we had already identified ancestors going back to around 900 CE, and there are still a lot of Coueys in that country today.  But I always held out for Ireland.  Now it appears that we were both right. While the preponderance of evidence shows a strong Irish connection, there is still a sizeable link to France as well.  The Scotland thing is new and it'll take me a while to understand that one.  But rest assured, there's no kilt-wearing or haggis eating in my immediate future.

This was a fascinating journey, well worth the money spent.  Not only do I understand my family's history better, I also have a better comprehension of the greater human story, the journey we all share.

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