Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Makes Us, Us

In a past post I blogged about the many catalogs I get in the mail. I usually look through them, rarely order anything and then recycle them.

In September of last year I got a National Geographic catalog in the mail and I saw something that sounded interesting so I bought it (and two days later, talked The Colonel into getting one too).

We bought two National Geographic Geno 2.0-Genographic Project Participation and DNA Ancestry Kits.

More than half a million people have participated in the project. The project tests nearly 150,000 DNA markers that have been specifically selected to provide unprecedented ancestry-related information. The project is an ambitious attempt to help answer fundamental questions about where humankind originated and how we came to populate the earth.

As participants, The Colonel and I contributed our data (DNA) to the Genographic Project's database and are helping their scientists and researchers to chart a comprehensive map of the early stages of human history.

Through our participation we would discover the migration paths of our ancient ancestors. We would also learn what percentage of our genome is affiliated with specific regions of the world and if we have Neanderthal (Western Eurasian Caveman) or Denisovan (Eastern Eurasian Caveman; first bone found in a cave in Siberia and the bone was that of a young female) ancestry.

We were excited when the kits finally arrived in the mail.

We opened our kits, thoroughly read the instructions and began to gather our DNA samples. With clean hands we opened the cheek swabs and began to vigorously (yet painlessly) scrape the inside of one cheek for about 45 seconds. We then ejected the swab tip into one of the little vials by using the plunger on the other end of the swab. We repeated the sequence with the second swab but scraped the opposite cheek.

Now we were ready to package our DNA samples and send them in the mail.

The Colonel and I were alerted, via an email, as to where in the project's process our DNA samples were. My DNA sample was isolated on November 7th and finally completed on December 3rd. The Colonel's sample took roughly a week to ten days longer to be completed. Males have a Y chromosome so the patriarchal line needs to be traced as well as their matriarchal X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes so only the matriarchal line can be traced.

My DNA results showed that I am 42% Northern European, 39% Mediterranean and 16% Southwest Asian. This means that my first reference population is British (United Kingdom) and my second reference population is German. My hominid ancestry is 1.4% Neanderthal and 1.7% Denisovan.

Remember, The Colonel got his results later than I did and when he found out that I had Neanderthal DNA he laughed and called me a "knuckle-dragger". When his results came in they showed he had more Neanderthal DNA than I did at 3.0% (more than twice mine. Who is the "knuckle-dragger" now hmmm?). His Denisovan ancestry is 3.2% (again, more than mine). Most non-Africans are about 2% Neanderthal. 

The Colonel's DNA result percentages were very similar to mine. He is 44% Northern European, 36% Mediterranean and 18% Southwest Asian so his first reference population is British (United Kingdom) and his second reference population is German like mine.

By looking at the genetic markers I carry, the Geno 2.0 Project traced my lineage, ancestor by ancestor (female ancestors only via the Mitochondrial DNA I carry) and revealed a path they traveled as they moved out of Africa. My earliest ancestors lived in East Africa about 70,000 years ago and were the first modern humans to leave Africa and move northward.

As my ancestors moved north they lived in the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia for a while, and this is where they coexisted for a time with the Neanderthals (and when the Neanderthal DNA was introduced into my lineage).

My maternal ancestors would eventually migrate to southeastern Europe and then expand north into Europe. They survived by hunting and finding wild food sources. In Europe, they met with those who were already there and formed new cultures that are reflected in the archaeological record. Thus, my cousins played an important role in the history of Europe.

The Colonel and I are interested in our genealogy and learning where we fit on the "Genetic Family Tree of Humankind" is right up our alleys. Knowing our genetic ancestry is a gift we passed down to our children. Now they know that they have British (United Kingdom) and German ancestry on both sides of the family.

I am glad I decided to purchase something from one of the myriad of catalogs that pass through my mailbox. It has been interesting and exciting to learn about The Colonel's and my genetic ancestors and help the National Geographic's Geno Project.

Note: The Geno Project is an on-going process. The DNA I supplied to them is being constantly reviewed as they have more information to compare it to and as more people join the project. In August 2013 I was informed that my reference populations changed. My first reference population is now German and my second reference population is Greek. I have a younger brother joining the project soon. I am curious to see what my paternal side of the family will show through his DNA.

Note: My youngest brother's DNA showed that our paternal side of the family is Danish. So, as of July 12, 2014, our DNA makeup is: Danish, German and Greek. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Going Inside Downton Abbey

Like many Americans, I am addicted to the BBC series, Downton Abbey. I have already seen all the episodes of season three (my daughter, with her computer know-how, was able to find it for me online and I watched it over the Thanksgiving Day break) and I am watching it again (like everyone else, on PBS television, every Sunday evening) but this time I am taking notes. I have to.

Martha, my doctor (PhD) friend, has talked me into co-teaching a course with her for a local college's Adult Continuing Education Program (or should I use the British spelling...programme?).

Our course is entitled: Upstairs, Downstairs Psychology. The classes will he held on Fridays (Jan 25, Feb 8-22) from 3:00-4:30 p.m. There will be tea served at each class (in bone china cups with scones and everything!).

Our goal for this course will be to analyze the mindset of those who lived upstairs (masters) and downstairs (servants) in English country houses like Downton Abbey. We will explore the dynamics of the master/servant relationship. We will also revisit episodes of Downton Abbey.

Martha and I have started a blog that will go hand-in-hand with the course.

I have been watching British television programmes since the 1970's. I remember seeing some of the original Upstairs, Downstairs series back then.

Last year Martha watched every episode of Upstairs, Downstairs as her broken arm was mending. She admits to burning out her Kindle Fire and having to get a new one. Now that is an addiction! She told me I just had to watch the entire series. I did, on Netflix, and had I had a Kindle Fire, I probably would have burned mine out too.

Julian Fellowes, the creator/writer of Downton Abbey, must have watched Upstairs, Downstairs in the 1970's also because some of his story lines are very similar. I would recommend watching Upstairs, Downstairs (the 1970's version, not the recent one, I tried to watch that and lost interest) to everyone who enjoys Downton Abbey.

I am looking forward to co-teaching the upcoming course. Who wouldn't like talking about a favorite television series over a "cuppa"?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Happy New Year!