In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick used Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction images of DNA to prove that it had a double-helix structure. In 2003, the Human Genome Project successfully mapped the human genome. Today, genetic testing has become more and more commonplace, from Angelina Jolie’s breast cancer screening to at-home tests that let the average person see how much Neanderthal DNA they carry.
There are a few different personal genetic testing kits available: 23andme, ancestryDNA, and The Genographic Project are a few. While ancestryDNA focuses on genealogy, 23andme and The Genographic Project also test Neanderthal DNA and The Genographic Project even tests for Denisovan DNA (Kate Wong compared 23andme and The Genographic Project on her Scientific American blog).
Last week, my dad got his Geno 2.0 (from The Genographic Project) results back and immediately called me to talk about it. By and large, most of the results were what we expected but there were a few surprises. Geno 2.0 follows both the maternal and paternal lineage through time. My dad’s maternal lineage originated in East Africa about 70,000 years ago and continued north through the Arabian peninsula to the Caucasus Mountains and finally ended up in eastern Europe around 28,000 years ago.
The paternal lineage held a few surprises. It originated in East Africa about 75,000 years ago and continued north through the Arabian peninsula. That’s when things started to get interesting. The path turned east toward Southwest Asia before turning back west and ending up in eastern Europe.
The “Who Am I” tab took all of the information from my dad’s lineages’ trip around the globe to determine his likely ethnic background, as well as his percentage of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA. His results showed that his DNA most closely match a German reference population and that 2.6 % of his DNA came from Neanderthals (higher than average) while 2.4% of his DNA came from Denisovans. The Denisova data is still being interpreted, so it’s not clear what is average.
All in all, I’m very jealous that my dad was able to use Geno 2.0 to learn about his ancestry and I hope that soon I can, too. I’m also interested in what the map would look like for an individual without a primarily European background. How did Native Americans or Native Australians end up that far from Africa? I look forward to learning more as this technology advances.