I was given the Genographic Project kit as a gift from my mom to appreciate as an Anthropologist and as her daughter. Following the instructions in the quick start guide, I scraped the DNA from my cheeks in anticipation and bewilderment. After aggressively abrading my cheeks raw, I carefully placed my swabs in the test tubes provided in the kit. A ritual eagerness filled me as my lovely partner claimed, “Let’s put our dog’s DNA in the tubes.” I rolled my eye’s as my thoughts shifted to my dog’s DNA and the results that might produce. Part canine, part wolf, part space creature…well her name is Yoda (the Jedi master from Star Wars).
I took my DNA sample as if it was gold to the post office making sure I followed the instructions at least three times and then again.
I know I’m part Neanderthal, I claimed a few times to anyone that would listen. I mean not the Geiko commercial version, not what the media portrays as our distant clumsy and stupid cousins. But the productive large-brained socially complex relatives that proliferated Europe 100,000 years ago. As a undergraduate student decades ago I suspected they had sex and reproduced with modern-day humans although I was taught that Homo sapiens and Neanderthal didn’t procreate. It was impossible and Neanderthal, the lesser of the species, went extinct, so I was told until science determined otherwise. I often claimed to my professors that they did interbreed but Neanderthals had recessive genes. I was somehow rooting for Neanderthal to survive.
Six weeks later I received my results: 44% Northern European, 36% Mediterranean, 18% Southwest Asian and 2% Northeast Asian. Since my DNA traced my Matrilineal line, or Mother’s genes through my X chromosome, I instantly called my mom with the results.
“And our results are almost identical to the DNA make-up of many Romanians and Eastern Europeans in general,” I related my online comparison results.
“Oh, how exciting, ” she radiated with a desired exoticness she lacked as a Irish-German descendant. “I think I remember my dad saying we had relatives in Romania,” she recalled.
“Now don’t go all Transylvania on me and we’re not related to Vlad the Impaler,” I said without hesitation or expectation. “And we are 1.8% Neanderthal and 2.2% Denisovan.” The Denisovan group is an extinct relative of Homo sapiens and was not recognized when I was a student at UCLA. Recently discovered in Asia, little is known about this ancient ancestor.
“Wow,” she oozed with not much else to say but to go back to our Romanian roots.
We continued to discuss what was included in the results and the lack of half of my DNA, my father’s side. The Cherokee, Native American and mixed cultures that comprised part of my heritage. My brother could send in his DNA and get more complete results by analyzing the markers on his Y chromosome which would trace my father’s genetic line.
I was a bit surprised by the presence of both SE and NW Asian lines as I thought about the the history of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian conquest of Europe. I’m sure my Asian roots predate the Mongol Empire, but it’s fun to contemplate. I was equally intrigued by the complete lack of five of the regional ethnic groups in my mitochondrial DNA. Not a trace of Sub-Saharan African, Southern African, Native American or Oceanian. I’m not sure where they get the regional categories but I trust the science behind it. That being said I think the Northern European group is a bit general and if they could do even more of a breakdown that would be awesome. In the meantime, I’m still doing my research on the migratory paths and regional affiliations of my ancestors.