Thursday, 7 March 2013

Rewriting The Human Script Again

A few days ago BBC1 ran a two part tale on DNA basing it on the cross dressing entertainer, Eddie Izzard; the in depth DNA analysis on the female mitochondrial chromosome specific to his mother’s female line and the male Y chromosome specific to the father’s line.

It was meant to be an outline of the human story made personal for popular and easy viewing.  Why Eddie was chosen might have been because he was born in Yemen, a location critical to the story line, he lost his mother who died when he was very young, he had blue eyes and could relate to those he met on the journey without any difficulty.

There wasn’t much to grumble about in the presentation given that it was just a story stripped down to the basic plot, there was an absence of lecturing and based on what the mainstream theory of genetics seems to be telling us.

It was going up to half way through the second part that it appeared that Eddie’s Y chromosome was the same as mine.  At that point it was still around 25,000 years ago but for some people that might have been too close.  But it became closer.

We both have blue eyes and it seems that the genetic glitch for this goes back only a few thousand years and seems to have occurred in what is now Romania, according to the article on the net dealing with this topic.  It is possible that there are people out there, many in total, some of whom would prefer not to have these connections.

But it became still closer; the next stage was that his male line cropped up around the Elbe in Saxony not so long ago.  As did mine, although it was further down the river.  The question then was when did the move occur?  This is an open question, there are options.

The picture, however, may have changed already.  At the beginning of each of the two programmes, Eddie was taken to the parts of Africa where the origins were thought to begin on the evidence available.  In the second part, the Y, this was a particular group of hunter gatherers.

In the last few days, there has been a report in Science Daily suggesting that on the basis of very recent evidence, the Y chromosome can now be tracked back a lot further, from around 150,000 to 370,000 years which is quite a stretch.  The story is in a short item below and has been quarried already in the press:

Quite what else might turn up in the future we can only guess at, but the story is not yet over and can become more complicated.  There has already been the discovery of a different branch of humanity, the Denisovan and as the geneticists can go deeper and deeper with new techniques it could become very interesting.

It seems that already we are not quite what we thought we are and our ideas about who, what, how, where, when we emerged, moved and changed is still an ongoing project in many respects.  But this is in the deeper past.

Nearer to the present there has been the use of DNA to seek to identify the remains at Greyfriars in Leicester as those of King Richard III.  It looks very likely and I would like it to be right because once I parked my Vespa Scooter over the spot.

Along with this is the claim to Irish Ancestry of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, which is something of a giggle.  It goes back to the De Burghs of the Middle Ages.  In the male line these were the usual bunch of Norman land grabbers who in this case took their chances in Ireland and married into the families of local chieftains.

Had the newspapers that proclaimed this done their sums they would realise that the chances of Kate having other Irish ancestry somewhere relatively recent are quite high, the problem being lost traces probably around the 17th or 18th Centuries.  It would take some expert work and maybe DNA to run a check.

What also the press missed out on is that the De Burgh ancestry linked in to a descent from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence and son of King Edward III.  This is the man who provided the ancestral claim to the throne of King Richard III.  That Kate might be descended from Lionel is no surprise.

If you were to check out all the possible descendants of Lionel over the last 600 years you would be hitting very large figures and all sorts of unexpected people.  Many of these would not like to be either related to each other or to have this lurking in the family tree.  It would wreck many people’s ideas about their identity.

You never know, because Eddie was told that the in depth analysis he had showed that 2.8% of his male Y DNA is derived from the Neanderthals.

Which means that so does mine.

More research is clearly needed.

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