Sunday, October 25, 2015

Where Does My Baby Come From (Part II): A Citizen Science Exploration

A year and half ago I decided to learn about genealogy.  As a citizen scientist I started with the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project (2.0) to trace my genetic heritage.  And as I was about to become a new father, it would give insights not just to my origins, but new son's as well.  The process was relatively simple and you can read much more about it in the original blog post (see: Where Does my Baby Come From).  The analysis came back in the 1-2 months they promised, but fatherhood and job changes left me to busy to provide the interesting updates.  Now that he's almost 20 months old, time to share with everyone where his father came from.

For starters, the DNA lineages provided by Geno go way back, over 100,000 years and some ancestors (such as Mitochandrial Eve) we all have in common.  It turns out they I have slightly higher amounts of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA than average, at 2.4% and 2.3%, respectively (expected is slightly over 2.0% for Neanderthal and slightly under 2.0% for Denisovan).  Caveman joke's from old college friends notwithstanding, it is interesting to see how much caveman is still in me.

From these ancient origins you can trace the movements your ancestors made across the globe.  Searching for food, water, and adventure, they spanned out from Africa to the many corners of the Earth, and in some cases (like mine) spread out and then doubled back.  You can see this below.  The program itself provides detailed descriptions of each genetic marker and the lands/people encountered there, but summarized in various step-by-step tracings and actual heatmaps shown below.  This includes both paternal and maternal lineages, and the different markers used for each.

Image Courtesy: OpenScientist
Geno also compared me to other users and people from the initial research studies.  Based on that data I have the most in common with inhabitants of both the United Kingdom, as well as Greece. You can also see the broader breakdown of my heritage.
  • 42% Mediterranean
  • 37% Northern European
  • 19% Southwest Asian
I've known about the Mediterranean and European components from family histories but know much less about the Southwest Asian connection.  So that's something I want to look deeper into for the future.

As good as this data is, it's getting better.  Just in the time between first submitting my data and writing this post, new sets of genetic markers have been traced using DNA from people joining the program.  So not only are we learning about ourselves, we are helping advance knowledge for future generations.  The test has also been slightly changed in that time and can be ordered directly here.

I love this type of information...showing where we started millions of years ago, as hunters and gathers fighting for food, though the various migrations up and down the globe.  Not only is the human story interesting, but knowing that science can identify these long-forgotten movements is fascinating too.  But I do want to learn more.  Where did my family come from over more recent generations?  Oral histories tell me significant portions came from Italy, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, but is that it?  Are there other branches we don't know about?  And how do we find them?

Fortunately National Geographic has us covered.  Not only are they continuing research and updating user profiles as more data is available, they've also teamed up with Family Tree DNA to help people link together through their genetic information.  So you can find lost (and no so lost) relatives with any additional cost.  There is a bit of extra time involved though, so I can't tell you those results yet. But I will be reporting back along with information from other DNA testing, genealogy, and citizen science programs.

In the meantime, have you joined any of these programs? Have interesting results you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments below.


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