DNA

Please note that I do not have expert knowledge on this subject. I am only giving personal opinions based on what I have read and through my own experience. I accept no responsibility for any actions that you may take based on the content herein.

Please see my 'Contact' page re email address.


Earth from space, showing Europe, North Africa, East Africa (where the first Homo Sapiens originated), The Middle East, The North Pole, part of North America & part of Asia.

DNA - Deoxyribonucleic acid

DNA research is a very complex subject, so I had better try to explain it as simply as I can at the start of this page. DNA is a long strand of paired genetic codes that are in every cell of your body. These determine what you will look like and how healthy you will be at birth, assuming there are no external influences to affect your development. These are formed of a mixture of all your ancestors' DNA back into the distant past, and are particularly relevant to ancestors from the past ten generations - early DNA being too 'reduced' to be measurable, except your direct male-to-male and female-to-female lines.

Half of your DNA comes from your mother's side and half from your father's side. Brothers and sisters often look very different because they can inherit their DNA from different parts of each parent's DNA. Every male has a 'Y-chromosome' (Y-DNA) from their father, and an 'X-chromosome' (X-DNA) from their mother. Every female has two 'X-chromosomes' (2 x X-DNA), one from their father and one from their mother, but no Y-chromosome. This is explained in more detail below:

Each persons' genetic makeup is formed of 46 chromosomes (DNA). These decide your hair colour, height, build, intelligence, character, temperament, behaviour, and everything else about your that is part of you from birth (though much of your personality will be formed by life's experiences as you grow up). These are two strands of 23 pairs of 'chromosomes', one strand from your father (Y-chromosome in a male child; X-chromosome in a female child) and one from your mother (an X-chromosome - never a Y-chromosome, as she doesn't have one). These two strands of DNA (a Y + X in a male, or an X + X in a female) are linked together in pairs of genes along their length - one gene from your father and one gene from your mother in each pair. A man passes on only his 'Y' or his 'X' chromosome; a woman only passes on only one of her 'X' chromsomes to each child; as you can only inherit 50% of your genes from each parent. Each child will have a different combination of genes in each chromosome strand (it's a bit of a 'coin-flip' as to which you get), unless these children are identical twins, triplets, & etc. Also, specific genetic mutations can be present in one child and not another. These mutations are what is looked for to identify an ethnic group or an inherited tendency towards developing an illness, such as bowel cancer, heart defect, allergy, etc. These mutations are caused by Gamma Rays passing through everything on Earth and some of them colliding with strands of DNA in living creatures, including humans.

DNA, which is normally found in two strands (i.e. either YX in a male or XX in a female) has also been discovered in four strands in human cells, which may be linked to cancer; see Quadruple Helix DNA.

Y-DNA can be tested in males to determine where your ancient male-to-male line came from thousands of years ago. Your X-DNA cannot be tested in the same way as each 'X chromosome' is formed from a combination of up to five female ancestors. However, no matter whether you are male or female, there are bacteria in every cell of your body that have been passed from mother-to-child for millennia, and these can be tested to determine your ancient mother-to-mother origin. During intercourse, these bacteria in the tail of the father's sperm and are lost at the moment his sperm enters your mother's egg, when the tail of the sperm falls away; any such bacteria as may accidentally enter the egg are destroyed. This ancient female-to-female ancestral test is on DNA called your Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA).

By these two tests men can determine their father's ancient male-to-male line, and their mother's ancient female-to-female line, but females can only test their mother's ancient female-to-female line; so, they will need to ask a close male relative to undertake the Y-DNA test to determine their father's ancient male-to-male line. If these tests are used for surviving grandparents, they will obviously give additional results; e.g. your mother's father's ancient line, and may help you to determine which side of your family your other DNA comes from. These tests can also be used to prove or disprove a close relationship between any two people. (See details of tests below)

The other DNA tests concern the general 'soup' of all your ancestors that are included in your DNA. These tests can show the percentages of each ethnic group that make you up, and what modern-day countries have populations with similar genetic make-up to you. These results can be very different: e.g. someone who is Zoroastrian would be 'Indian' when compared with present-day populations, but 'Arab' when ethnically tested; this is because they are Arabs who were driven out of Persian by the Iranians and most of them now live in India; so, this can be of real help when trying to locate a country where your ancestors may have come from in recent history. These general tests of your overall DNA relate to ancestors in the last five generations; e.g. if you are 8% Sub-Saharan African (like me), someone in the last five generations of your family tree looked black African; though you may have had more than one such ancestor slightly further back, such an ancestor(s) lived after 1800. (See details of tests below)

All of these tests can be made because DNA mutates at regular intervals over thousands of years; this means that if a group of people living in the past split into several groups, some of whom migrated to different regions of the world, where different mutations would then have occurred due to different diets, climate, & etc., their approximate period of divergence can be calculated, as well as their shared point of origin. Such is the case with the Native Americans who can be proven to have come from eastern Asia in two main waves and to have migrated right down into the furthest part of South America.

If you have any interest at all in DNA and would like to gain some background knowledge for your future DNA reading and research, I really would recommend that you read: The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science that Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry, by Brian Sykes, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2001; it is still easily obtainable via book dealers and Amazon. Even if you only have a passing interest in the evolution of mankind, this book is a must to read; it also covers the investigations into 'The Ice Man' who was discovered frozen in the Alps, the skeleton of the Stone Age 'Cheddar Man', and the remains of the Tsar of Russia and his family. It is a brilliant read.

There is another useful book about the evolution of man, but more from the perspective of fossilized 'human' remains (mainly skulls) and other archaeological research, rather than primarily from the DNA viewpoint; it makes an interesting secondary perspective to the subject of human evolution: African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity, by Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie, published by Henry Holt & Company, 1996; it is still easily obtainable via book dealers and Amazon, though mostly in 'used' condition.

Relationships between different branches of your family surname, including all the variations in spelling, might be provable through male-line (i.e. Y-chromosome) genetic research, if enough male volunteers were willing to join such a venture.

DNA Summary

Y-Chromosome (YDNA) is a pure male-to-male ancient line. Males have one Y-Chromsome, which can be tested to prove their ancient male-to-male ancestry, and one X-Chromosome, which cannot be used to trace ancient female-to-female ancestry.

X-Chromosome (XDNA) is a combination of up to five female ancestors. Females have two X-Chromosomes, which cannot be used to trace ancient female-to-female ancestry; they have no Y-Chromosome (YDA).

Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) is a bacteria in every cell of all males and females. As this only comes from their mother, it can be used to trace their ancient female-to-female ancestry. When a man dies, his ancient female-to-female line is lost, unless he has a female relative who shares that line of descent.

Autosomnal DNA is the bulk of DNA passed to an individual, both male and female, at 50% from each parent. It is a mixture ('soup') of all their recent ancestors' DNA. However, the combination will be in different percentages between siblings, hence the different appearances of each individual within the family. It is unlikely that an individual will have 25% from each grandparent or 12.5% from each great grandparent, as the combination is purely 50% from each parent and you may get more of one grandparent than another.

DNA Tests

DNA Worldwide is the DNA laboratory used by the 2007-2010 UK TV series 'Who Do You Think You Are': dna-worldwide.com, who have since teamed up with livingdna.com.

The main 'family history' test available is '3-in-1' at £129.00 (currently discounted to £109.00) for each person tested, plus £39.00 if you want a brilliant copy of your results in a specially printed book, which I recommend as it will help you understand it all.

Please note that there have recently been extensive changes to their service options, so you would need to check their website for current services and costs. Monies are payable direct to the laboratory.

Their '3-in-1 ancestry test' covers your personal ancestry, including your ancient mother-to-mother line (& your ancient father-tofather line, if you are male; females will need a male relative to get their father's YDNA results). They currently offer twice the detail of other ancestry tests; give you your DNA mix across 80 world regions, including 21 in Britain and Ireland; you can also explore peer reviewed details of the areas of the world your ancestors are from; you can view your ancestry through history; they put your ancestry into context showing your breakdown today (going back up to 10 generations), and also the spread of your ancestors at different points in history, showing how we are all connected.

When I did my test, it involved rubbing two swabs, like large cotton-bud earwipes, inside my mouth for 30 seconds and nothing more intrusive. I also needed to fill out a small form & envelope, sign and date them, put them in their pre-paid envelope, and pop it in the post. It was easy and painless, apart from the cost, which was far more back in 2002! You cannot get better family history proof than DNA, if you are searching for your ethnic origins. Most people that I know, who are 'doing their family history' are hoping to get back as early as they can, and most will get stuck in the mid-1700s due to spelling changes (described elsewhere on my website); few, however, dream of getting back to 1066, and even fewer can actually prove their descent to before the Norman Conquest. DNA offers you a proven origin back for thousands of years; it will not give you romantic names such as 'Eric the Bloodaxe' for your tree (nor 'Eric the Viking' as in the film), but it may prove that you are a direct descendant of a Viking.

Maybe you have an elderly relative that would be worth testing first, while they are still there to participate and enjoy sharing the results with you.

If you have recently lost someone whose DNA you would have liked, try to keep things like their toothbrush and hairbrush or comb, as these are good sources of MtDNA and possibly more if very fresh. Keep them in a new & clean paper envelope in a dry place at room-temperature - do not put such items in plastic bags or boxes, nor in damp conditions such as a fridge, as MtDNA material is best kept dry and can often last for many years if stored like this.

If you want to get a DNA full test for someone who is deceased, any hair samples must have the bulbous root on them (hair clippings are a very poor source with a limited amount of MtDNA); it may be easier to use their toothbrush. I understand that both of these methods are possible, but may be more expensive. However, I do not know if such laboratories will undertake tests other than those taken in the normal way using their test-kits; you will need to check with the laboratory staff; they are extremely helpful.

Remember, you are unlikely to show any visual sign of ethnic ancestry that does not represent at least 30-35% of your overall ethnic makeup, so you may get some surprises (as I did - see 'My DNA' page):

If you are interested in understanding more about DNA & Genetealogy (Genealogy by DNA) & the various test that can be undertaken using DNA, then I really recommend the following book, which is easy to read and understand starting from the basics; this is a brilliant book and is very 'user-friendly': Trace Your Roots with DNA - Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak and Ann Turner, published by Rodale in 2004, distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers; ISBN: 1-59486-006-8 paperback, 272 pages. (available via amazon.co.uk)


Ever wondered why women frequently live longer than men?

New mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) research in fruit flies may have partly revealed why women frequently live longer than men. Since we all get our mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) only from our mothers, it is impossible for any mitochondrial DNA that may only harm men can be filtered out by natural selection. Over thousands of years, mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) evolves with the more successful mitochondrial DNA being passed down to their children, but only that which is more successful for women! Some of what is passed on from mothers to sons may leave them more vulnerable to earlier death. However, there are many other factors to be considered, including men's lifestyle, which will obviously affect longevity. Whatever the cause, the facts are that there are six women to every four men aged 85; by 100 years old the ratio is higher than two to one. If you would like to read more about this research, please see bbc.co.uk/news.


Is our DNA really all that different from other living creatures and plants?

Our Human DNA is apparently 98.4% the same as a chimpanzee; 97% the same as an orangutang; 90% the same as a cat; 80% the same as a cow; 75% the same as a mouse; 60% the same as a fruit fly; 60% the same as a chicken; 50% the same as a banana; and 40% the same as some bacteria. However, there are other factors that should be taken into account, which mean that we humans are not actually 98.4% chimpanzee nor are we 50% banana.


Can you rely on your DNA test results as being accurate and true?

There have apparently been recent comments made by scientists to the BBC that suggest our ancestry cannot be accurately determined by DNA, and that this type of research is 'akin to genetic astrology'. However, as with all family history research, and since we don't know for certain that paper records are accurate, we must take an overall view of probability based on available data, and this should, in my opinion, include all avenues of research including DNA. It would be foolish to assume that every person who has ever lived on the planet was sired by the father shown on official records, and that, prior to 20th century adoption laws, every child was the birth-child of the parents shown on official records. DNA is totally your own, so must always be a valid source of information. Though I must admit that I have heard some rather far-fetched conclusions on some TV programmes. The DNA tests that I had done were carried out by a dedicated DNA laboratory at dna-worldwide.com and gave clear scientific results that I had to expand on using my own Internet research; they did not draw dramatic conclusions, just scientific results. Your own imagination then comes into play, as you expand on these results with Internet research; the end results are only as good as the research that you undertake. I have seen some fairly 'imaginative' interpretations, sometimes by companies, sometimes by individuals, but hope that my own conclusions are a bit more realistic that some of these. DNA science is expanding on a daily basis; so, such interpretations need continuous work in light of newly published research. That was why I used a reputable and recommended laboratory for my own tests (dna-worldwide.com). Just like documentary research, DNA research never ends! It is all about a balance of probablities based on what you find.

Please note that I do not receive any sponsorship from any of the suggested website, nor from anyone else; my research and this website are totally self-funded.

Please note that I do not have expert knowledge on this subject. I am only giving personal opinions based on what I have read and through my own experience. I accept no responsibility for any actions that you may take based on the content herein.