Sunday, March 16, 2014

Where Does My Baby Come From?

In less than a week I will be a new father.  We don't know the exact time or place but my wife is due around the start of Spring.  The perfect time for our new family to be born.

But where does this baby come from?

Looking at our relatives there is a strong Italian heritage, as well as Irish, Eastern European, and German blood.  All this comes from family stories and genealogy research both sides have done.  But can we go back any deeper?  And are there any surprises that we don't already know about, such as Native American or other ancestors?  Until recently there was no way too know.

Fortunately my wife signed us up for The Genographic Project from the National Geographic Society.  Scientists behind this project have collected over 150,000 genetic markers from people around the world.  They have also collected ancestry information on all these markers, allowing them to identify where each of these genes comes from and when it developed as humans evolved. This all comes together as a kit that allows the anyone to send in our own DNA samples and have them compared to find out where we come from.  So last year's Christmas present will help us learn what our child's background will be.

As an added bonus, by participating in the project users also help to expand the database of ancestry information for future use.  So you learn about yourself and contribute to helping the next person learn even more.  What's wrong with that?

Getting Started is Easy:

  1. Visit The Genographic Project web site and order the kit.  At $199 it is not cheap, but they are providing you with advanced genetic testing and the money goes to supporting, and continuing, this scientific work.  So it helps you while continuing to push the research forward.
  2. Photo Courtesy:
  3. Wait a few days for the kit to arrive in the mail. There's a picture of it directly above.
  4. Once the kit arrives one of the first things you'll want to do is register it with National Geographic using the enclosed code.  From The Genographic Project web site click on the "Results" tab and provide your name, email address, registration code, and provide a password. Since they are taking your DNA and since ancestry is personal information, the system is designed to keep everything anonymous unless you choose otherwise.  That means protecting your username/password since even the project administrators can't access your information without them.
  5. Time to collect your two from your left cheek and one from your right.
    1. Carefully open one of the small vials and place it within close reach.
    2. Open the first swab and insert the "brush" side into your mouth.
    3. Vigorously rub the swab against your cheek for 45 seconds.
    4. Place the swab tip over the open vial, insert the tip in, and push down on the top of the swab.  This will release the tip  into the vial. 
    5. Close the cap.
    6. Repeat with the other cheek.
    7. Place both vials into the plastic collection bag (with some air in the bag for cushioning).
  6. Sign and detach the informed consent form included with the kit. 
  7. Place the vials and the consent form into the pre-addressed envelope, and add five first-class stamps. 
  8. Mail it in and wait for the results! 
Interestingly, this test does not look solely at the nuclear DNA from the nucleus of your cell but also at DNA located on the cell's mitochondria.  Since mitochondrial DNA is only passed down by your mother through her egg (it is not part of the male sperm) this provides great ancestry information from the mother's side.  For your father's side, that information is kept on the Y chromosome.   This is the most accurate way we know of tracing lineage on both sides of your family.  Unfortunately this means that since female participants do no have a Y chromosome they will only get information about their father's side of the family.  So any female readers of this blog should take that into consideration before purchasing the full kit.  I'd hate to see you disappointed.

That's all there is to it.  If you'd like to learn more I suggest watching the following video from the Genographic web site:

Of course this is just half the story...we also have to get the results and interpret them.  That should come in six to eight weeks when the analysis is finished.  So check back then to find out what we've learned.