This is a very simple, lucid video of Spencer Wells talking about his work on the Genographic Project, the effort to accumulate lots of individual genetic data to map out where we all came from.
I’ve also submitted a test tube full of cheek epithelial cells to this project, and Lynn Fellman is going to be doing a DNA portrait of me. I had my Y chromosome analyzed just because my paternal ancestry was a bit murky and messy and potentially more surprising, and my mother’s family was many generations of stay-at-home Scandinavian peasantry, so I knew what to expect there. Dad turned out to be not such a great surprise, either. I have the single nucleotide polymorphism M343, which puts me in the R1b haplogroup, which is just the most common Y haplogroup in western Europe. I share a Y chromosome with a great many other fellows from England, France, the Netherlands, etc., which is where the anecdotal family history suggested we were from (family legend has it that the first American Myers in my line was a 17th or 18th century immigrant from the Netherlands). Here’s a map of where the older members of my lineage have been from: Africa (of course!) by way of a long detour through central Asia.
Hello, many-times-great-grandpa! That’s quite the long walk your family has taken. Howdy, great big extended family! We’ll have to get together sometime and keep in touch.
If you’re interested in finding out what clump of humanity you belong to, it’s easy: you can order a $100 kit, swab out a few cheek cells (just like they do on CSI or Law & Order!), mail it back, and a few weeks later, they send you your results. It’s not very detailed — they only analyze a small number of markers — but it’s enough to get a rough picture of where your branch of the family tree lies. And for a bit more, Lynn can turn it into something lovely for your wall.
By the way, Lynn and I will be talking about the science and art of human genetics in a Cafe Scientifique session in Minneapolis in February.
DNA portrait? That is the coolest birthday gift ever!
Yeah I saw the video on TED a while back and ordered mine as well.. Great idea :)
Potentially of interest:
Sociologist Troy Duster on “How Much Can DNA Really Tell Us About Race?”
Little Red Riddinghood says
Sounds Cool , but as soon as I read this “swab out a few cheek cells (just like they do on CSI or Law & Order!”… all kind of paranoic and fatalist thoughts came to my mind … what if…..and then…… make it stop !
Bad Albert says
Of course there will be some that are offended if they are given any results that go back more than 6,000 years.
Patrick Quigley says
The Wall Street bailout plan has failed to pass. With the U.S. and possibly the world on the verge of financial disaster, will our politicians spend the next few days working on other solutions? No. They only have a few more hours, because Rosh Hashanah begins today at nightfall, and congress is more afraid of upsetting sky-fairies upset than they are of a second great depression. Isn’t religion wonderful?
Joe Felsenstein says
Going back 10 generations, you had 1024 ancestors. You now have information about one of them. Most of your genes came from (some of) the 1023 others. So it may be premature for you to think that you now know about your ancestry! Y chromosome coalescents (which is what these trees of gene copies are called — they are not phylogenies) tell us about ancestry of populations, being one sample from the many ancestral lineages. But for an individual, they are a poor guide to where the non-Y-chromosome part of their particular genome came from.
So, should we all mark “African American” (assuming you live in the US) on all forms that ask for such information?
The Wall Street bailout plan has failed to pass.
That had better NOT turn out to be because of select rethuglicans holding out for capital gains tax cuts.
…wait. what am i saying? if it does turn out to be because of those mofos holding out over adding the capital gains rider, then that will fucking doom the rethuglicans for the next 4 years in the house.
so, uh, good job, morons?
OTOH, Ichthyic crack corn, and he don’t care, he’s going to NZ.
Dammit Joe, you’re peeing in my Post Toasties™:
(I still think it’d be fun. *pout*)
…the collection of articles suggest this was an equal opportunity defection, so seems unlikely to be primarily due to the capital gains holdouts.
probably just fear of general backlash from voters, based on the majority of polls indicating most americans feel this to just be “rewarding the rich”, kinda like the S and L bailout of the late 80’s.
I’ve watched one of his programs. It was pretty good except for the fact he kept reassuring native populations that he accepted and respected that they had their own creation stories.
What the hell Ichthyic?!?!! I just filled another another bowl and here you come whizzing away.
(the sky is falling…)
Glen Davidson says
But how do you know that your genes weren’t designed to look like they came from those places, instead of actually coming from them?
Sort of leaves you speechless, doesn’t it (can be taken in two ways)?
Sooo… Eden’s in africa?
Afarensis Triangle, although it’s far from paradise now.
Oh goodie, goodie!
Please everyone talk up a storm about this. I have a map like PZ’s, and a certificate with numbers on it of Y-chromosome Allele but I don’t understand a word of it. My DNA lab was Family Tree DNA.
By the trails on the map PZ, my ol’ Norwegian hillbillies were tailing along with yours. Too bad for gawd, my first ancestor’s were in Africa 60,000 years ago.
Also known as “the human race”. Isn’t that a map of the entire human mtDNA and Y chromosome diversity, only not displaying all of the side branches?
Are you sure you have a Y-chromosome, Patricia? ;)
Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
Tony Sidaway says
Dammit, PZ, those conservapundits were right all along. You’re not an American at all, you’re a god damned liberal European!
Eddie Janssen says
To Joe Felsenstein
One generation ago you had 2 ancestors, 2 generations ago 4, 8, 16 etc but it is not very likely that you had 1024 ancestors 10 generations ago. 900 or 800 or even 450 are also possible. Your umptiest greatgrandfather from your father’side may have been married to a great etc mother from your mothers side of the family. In your theory I would have had roughly 1000000000000 (a thousand billion) ancestors at the time of Pontius Pilate or 2 to the power 40. And these people would only be my ancestors. I don’t think there would have been any room left on earth for your ancestors!
Chalmer Wren says
This is really cool! I’ll have to start saving up so I can send in my DNA.
Eddie #22 has it dead on. The number of ancestors you have actually collapses after a number of generations – it’s called Pedigree Collapse, by those in the know(tm). Still, because of the inheritance patterns of the y-chromosome and mtDNA, it makes poor proxies for your full genomic compliment. I think to the study of Brown Bears on the ABC islands in Alaska by Talbot, which under mtDNA studies were paraphyletic, and a sister taxa with Polar Bears. However, when you actually looked at geneflow between Polar Bears using the rest of the genome, it found ABC brown bears indistinguishable from mainland Brown Bears. Your sex linked genes rarely tell the full story.
That said, I’ve sequenced my d-loop. One of the perks of working in genetics, is you get occasionally have a bit of fun. : )
Feselstein:Going back 10 generations, you had 1024 ancestors.
Unlikely, unless you are 10 generations of immigrant stock. In most of the world and until recently in almost the entire world, the most common form of marriage was cousin-marriage.
Scott from Oregon says
Where can I find some DNA research done on Jews and Palestinians. I’ve often argued that the two “people’s” are family and that the only thing that divides them are a few thousand years, and tribal and religious impulses.
It would be nice to see the lineage demonstrated with a study.
Anybody know of one?
Eamon Knight says
We (ie. me & wife) should get this done for. It would be interesting to compare our results and see if the maps they come up with correlate in any sensible way with more-or-less known family history. (Me: England, and before that Scandinavia & Northern Europe in general. Her: Eastern European Jewish, presumably tracing back to the Middle East. Lineages combine: Who knows? Could be a long time ago.)
Brownian, OM says
Having learned from past experience not to put anything ordered off the internet into my mouth, I’m loathe to send them my cheek cell swab. Besides, this clump of hair from my tail should be informative enough with regard to my ancestry.
Evolving Squid says
I did this when it first came out. My results were pure British Isles… which surprised me because I do have some Dutch relatives, although on my mother’s side. On my father’s side, we’re Britons through and through I guess.
though unless there were some raping and pillaging Mongols somewhere in my ancestry, this will probably be rather unsurprising; my maternal line is all a bunch of low level polish nobles.
I should get the boyfriend to do this though… he’s a veritable American Mutt(TM), so all kinds of interesting things might come from that… either that, or I’ll mug my brother and have my dad’s lineage traced.
Beverly Nuckols says
A few years ago, I heard a lecture on culturally sensitive medicine given by a chocolate-colored gentleman who identified as an African-American. He told us, however, that he had his DNA tested and found that most of his genes came from his European, Caucasian ancestors.
The Geneology groups are testing male volunteers to follow family lines.
The ethics and potential risks of genetic testing is a hot bioethics topic. However, you shouldn’t worry about the geneology tests, since you blood is probably in labs all over if you’ve been tested, volunteered for a medical study, donated blood, or ever served in the armed forces.
SfO: Your ‘argument’ has been proven for some time now. It’s just the old racist ideas from both sides (used for land claims, etc.) that obfuscate the genetic proof.
You submitted a “test tube full” of cheek cells? Knife or razor blade? rb
Nick Gotts says
I’ve recently read The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer, which combines genetics with historical linguistics and archaeology in an attempt to trace when and whence both the ancestors of most of today’s Brits, and their languages, arrived. It’s not as well written as his earlier “The Real Eve”, which surveys the spread of anatomically modern humans from Africa, but there’s a lot of fascinating stuff there. In particular, he says genetic evidence shows that both the Anglo-Saxon and the earlier Celtic invasions at most replaced a few percent of the population – so if your British ancestry goes back at least a few generations, some of your ancestral lines will almost certainly have been in Britain since before continental Europe became cut off ;-).
– Celtic Bastard
I’m m201 and G2A haplogroup, which, apparently, means that my distant ancestor of that branch was somewhere in the middle east about 10000 years ago, which is 4000 years before Jesus was riding dinosaurs int he same area. We were there way before the xtains or the jews so don’t blame me.
Joe Felsenstein says
To those who corrected me about how many ancestors we have 10 generations ago, I shamefacedly confess error. Our lab works on coalescents, so I should not have been so glib. Yes, in a population of about 1,000,000 people, 10 generations ago you actually have about 1022 ancestors, not 1024, if we assume ancestors are randomly chosen, which they aren’t (in a population of about 100,000, about 1003 ancestors).
The point is that these Y-chromosome genealogies tell you about 1 ancestor in that generation, whereas there actually were a lot more.
I beg your pardon, I should have been clearer – the DNA test was done on my brother, not me.
This whole thing makes no damned sense what so ever. I called the lab, and a cheery voice told me that the results put my brother in Haplogroup E1b1a – Shorthand E-M2. Then she tells me that is a Bantu tribe that only left Africa 3000 years ago. Yet my DNA map looks very close to PZ’s. The same ending in Spain, same into Norway, then I branch off into Denmark. 50,000 years ago some one from the tribe went to Aussie land.
It makes no sense.
Scott from Oregon – Family Tree DNA has some special tests for jewish and middle eastern people. Check out their website.
I’m sceptical. ‘Cause really, there’s no way to tell if that lineage is all B.S..
I want to do that a lot, but I don’t have an extra Benjamin lying around the house. Thought about trying to get my department to pay for it by saying I’d talk about it in class, but that might get the dean mad.
I think they show all the major Y chromosome lineages on the maps, not just your brothers or PZ’s. PZ’s haplogroup is the arrow that ends up in Spain with a ring around it. Your brother’s would be the one that veers south from Sahara. The map says M2 which is the mutation marking haplogroup E1b1a.
So, I think the labs give everyone more or less the same map, and then just tell you which branch is yours. Hope this helps!
Alex Besogonov says
PZ, your words “human lineage” imply that you have other types of lineages.
Care to show us your cephalopode lineage?
My maternal haplogroup is L3 and my dad’s is M91. See where these are on the map …
But by the 1700s these ancestors who’d migrated from East Africa settled as farmers in Ghana in the hills of West Africa. From there they were transported to Jamaica in the Caribbean, where they had children with some Scottish and English nobles. I traced the Scots on our family tree to the 1300s and the Ghanaians to medieval times.
Scroll down to 2005. I have been communicating with my ancestral cousins who are dukes, earls, and other lords and nobles. Interesting:
I prefer to think of Eden (paradise) as being found within the “fertile crescent” -whatever your sexual preference.
robin friedrich says
Joe’s comment (#7) beat me to it. Oh well, I hope everyone here heeds the point he was making – the DNA test you took has very little to do with your actual lineage as it ignores many thousands of other threads.
//I prefer to think of Eden (paradise) as being found within the “fertile crescent” -whatever your sexual preference.//
Its pretty barren in the fertile crescent these days,actually…:-)
Windy – Thank you for trying to explain this to a complete rube. I still don’t understand how I can be a member of the Bantu tribe when I look like an ad for Swiss Miss.
My African American friends think this is the funniest thing they have ever heard. None of them think the lab sent me the correct results.
Not being able to understand this is maddening because I can’t tease back.
This sort of project reminds me of the book “7 Daughters of Eve” By Brian Sykes in which he traces European genetic ancestry back to 7 women in Africa. Good reading for those interested
Care to show us your cephalopode lineage?
I thought he’d been doing that already…
every friday, right?
That sounds really interesting – if the DNA lab didn’t make a mistake! Remember that you only need a single ‘Bantu’ ancestor to contribute the Y chromosome to the men in your family, and most of your DNA would come from other people, so it’s not at all impossible.
Do you know much about your ancestors in the male line, were they Norwegian hillbillies too?
OTOH, Ichthyic crack corn, and he don’t care, he’s going to NZ.
Poor little ol’ NZ is officially in recession now. 100 Kiwis per day are emigrating to Oz. Have fun.
Eeek! Oh thank you Windy! You were finally able to dumb it down to my hillbilly understanding. One ancestor. That makes sense. The first ancestor. *smirk, two*
Except, shouldn’t PZ be an African too? If all the earliest humans evolved out of Africa, how come PZ is a European, and I’m listed as an African when I’m whiter than George Bush’s backside?
Arrrgh! I hate being so ignorant.
Wait a minute – does that mean my family is older than PZ’s? Ha, Ha! Points finger at the newbies. ;o)
A few people have alluded to it, but politely avoided being as blunt as I shall be: Anyone who pays money for their haplotype in hopes of finding out something about ancestry, as PZ did, has basically been scammed. Being in any particular haplogroup doesn’t mean you are necessarily even closely related, since your haplogroup represents an inheritance from ONE of many many possible ancestors. Here’s an analogy: Instead of DNA, let’s imagine we are going trace your movements around the world using the money you are carrying in one’s pocket. If you are found with Euros, you presumably came from Europe. If you have renminbi in your pocket, you presumably came from China. Rupees from India, American dollars from the U.S., etc. Makes sense, right? But imagine that every country on earth takes each other’s currency, and then also give everyone a million years to mix all the money around in their pockets. Now what? If I pull a rupee out of your pocket and claim you just came from India, does that mean much? No, because you might have a bunch of dollars, a couple krone, and a ruble in there too. It’s the same thing with these DNA tests. They don’t tell you anything except what one particular ancestor of yours passed down to you. Sure, you can go with the odds and say that the likelihood of pulling a rupee randomly out of your pocket is pretty slim if you actually hadn’t been exchanging money in India. But that’s just playing the odds. A better approach, obviously, is to analyze the complete set of money one happens to be carrying. The DNA equivalent of ‘whole pocket analysis’ is whole-genome SNP analysis. But what a pain. It’s easier to just remember that genotype confers phenotype, and we are all pretty darn familiar with the relationship between genotype (appearance) and geography/ancestry already. If anyone out there can’t already tell that PZ has West European ancestry from his picture, they are a moron. Send me your photo and I’ll tell you where in the world your ancestors are likely from, and I’ll do it with a lot less mumbo-jumbo jargon and for a lot less than $100.
The migration maps too are basically fantasy, based on many many assumptions.
Not really the first… I was thinking more about the last ancestor that might have been identified as African. I wouldn’t worry too much who was the “first ancestor”.
Yep, all Y and mtDNA lineages trace back to Africa. But PZ’s Y chromosome has spent more time out of Africa than your brother’s Y chromosome (or whoever that result came from).
Dave, you’re right, if pessimistic :)
I clicked over to Ms. Fellman’s website and viewed her video. Right off she tell’s us that evolution has ended for our species. Wonderful! News to me.
Oh gawd, I just get stoopider – and turtles all the way down.
Now here comes Dave to stomp on us stupid hillbillies.
OK Dave, explain the E1b1a Bantu white people. I honestly want to know.
This evidence is irrefutable proof that your haplo group travelled through… Afganistan!
I think Myers might be a secret muslim
I don’t care if at the time the people there believed this hinderland variant of the Greek Pantheon!11111
Somehow, someway his people went through either Egypt or Iran. That means he’s arab with slight muslim tendencies.
Myers must not be allow to preach his islamfacist-communistic-atheism. to the sweet young innocent undergraduates.
The thing to remember with your brother’s DNA test is that it only shows your patrilineal ancestry. In other words, the genetic markers were passed to him from your father from his father from his father from his father and so on back. In each generation, the Y chromosome only gets passed from father to son.
But the Y-chromosome genetic information of any other fathers in your past – for example, your mother’s father – doesn’t get passed along. So, in fact, the Y-chromosome DNA test only gives one line of ancestry going back but says nothing about any of your other ancestral lines.
You could also have your mitochondrial DNA tested and that would give your matrilineal line from your mother from her mother from her mother, etc. Again, it’s only one line.
FWIW, I have a good friend whom you would probably consider “white”, but who had ancestors who were considered “black” in the 1800s in the U.S. Skin color is pretty irrelevant over the course of generations.
Here’s a link to a photo project titled “Faces of West Africa”. The E1b1a haplotype reaches frequencies of 80% in this area, so potentially, these people may be distant cousins.
Thank you Windy. This DNA thing has been so hard for me to understand.
My DNA map hits Australia 50,000 years ago – I don’t look like an Aborigine, America 10,000 years ago but I don’t have any Native American traits, New Zealand 10,000 years ago – it would be so fun to have a Pharyngula fest on DNA maps.
those other lines (Australia, America, etc.) aren’t yours. Those are the lines for the rest of humanity. Your map is showing the whole tree and all the branches.
Your section of the tree by way of your father’s paternal lineage is strictly down in Africa, where the M2 or E1b1a arrow appears, as well as the arrows that lead into it – which should be M96, YAP, and M168, going backward (or E, DE, CT, if your map is marked that way).
Hello from Holland!
Myers sounds like it could derive from “M(e)ijers,” which I think is a Dutch surname.
I saw Spencer speak a few years back as part of the National Geographic speakers tour and ordered up two kits that night. I’ve had both my maternal and paternal lineages done. Very interesting stuff. I brought my genetic trail map to a big family reunion and gave a presentation on how our ancestors emigrated out of Africa… many of my elder cousins had a hard time grasping that we’re all Africans at heart. For others, it was quite enlightening. I highly recommend getting a kit- besides being personally interesting, it supports a great cause. Men can track maternal and paternal. Women can only track maternal.
Nick Gotts says
Myers itself is a fairly common English surname (my maternal grandmother’s as it happens). Would an American with a Dutch surname have bothered to Anglicize it?
I had my mitochondrial DNA analyzed in order to try to settle a long running family argument (never mind what the argument was…except boring to anyone outside my family.) It showed haplogroup A, details suggesting an origin in what is now the southwestern part of the US or northern Mexico. This finding is more amusing if you know that I’m pale, blue eyed, and damn near blond. Then my father got his Y-chromosome tested and it suggested that his family was from somewhere in Pakistan. Maybe it’s time to reconsider Lamarkian evolution*…
*Yes, I’m joking. The real explanation is, of course, the other 1022 ancestors, most of whom were probably from northern Europe.
I’ve been reading up on the history of the letter “IJ” (which is considered to be one letter, and only occurs in Dutch). It appears that in the 16th and 17th centuries “y” and “ij” were used indiscriminately and as having the same sound. So Myers would have been an acceptable Dutch surname in those centuries (and not derived from M(e)ijers, as I thought), pronounced the same as modern Mijers, but to modern Dutch eyes it looks like an English surname. In the second half of the 19th century, “ij” was starting to be used as it is today; in Dutch words only, while “y” is used in words of foreign origin. Dutch Mijers/Myers and English Myers don’t have the same pronunciation, by the way: in Dutch it’s pronounced [Mɛiərs], but in English it’s [Maɪəɹs] (for those who know IPA).
Isn’t the abhorrence of human evolution by some racist Creotards the fact that all early humans were dark skinned. (Not too many naked lily white hominids fare very well residing near the equator) -signed a melanin-challenged Texan.
Craig is right, this is what I was trying to explain in #42. I think the DNA testing firms are not pointing this out clearly enough, since this seems to be a common misunderstanding.
I’m haplogroup H1 (mitochondrial DNA). I did this about a year ago. Very cool stuff. And they don’t come any cooler than Spencer Wells. Just sayin’.