One of the great mysteries of prehistory for me is how intelligent apes became modern humans. There are many fascinating books on this topic; most of them just guessing as the scientific evidence is slim to non existent. However in recent years, breakthroughs in analyzing ancient DNA have given us some tantalizing hints.
A chimpanzee in the San Diego Zoo (my photo)
First off, our closest ape relatives have 24 chromosome pairs while we have 23. Our chromosome 2 is a fusion of two chromosomes found in other primates. This is not as uncommon an occurrence as it might sound. All the same information is there, just repackaged. Thus the first 23 chromosome person could have children with a 24 chromosome mate. Wild horses and tame ones also have a one chromosome difference and can have offspring.. Plus there is wide variation in numbers of chromosomes among certain butterflies. Click here for an excellent article on this.
So how did having 23 chromosomes spread in the human population so that it became the norm? The answer is still unknown. Perhaps founder effect, genetic drift, or maybe there was an evolutionary advantage as yet undetermined.
So how did we start to think analytically, speak complex languages, and organize politically? Well a gene that is critical in language development was discovered a few years back – FOXP2. And the human one is different from apes. According to the wikipedia article (click here): “previous genetic analysis had suggested that the H. sapiens FOXP2 gene became fixed in the population around 125,000 years ago. Some researchers consider the Neanderthal findings to indicate that the gene instead swept through the population over 260,000 years ago, before our most recent common ancestor with the Neanderthals.” The sources for these statements are footnoted in the original article.
The largest genealogy conference in the world, Rootstech is virtual and free again this year. It starts in just a few hours!
For genetic genealogists, i4GG is on again for April 9-10 in San Diego in person, thanks to CeCe Moore. The East Coast is going to have its own genetic genealogy conference, now virtual, ECGGC on April 23-24. Click any name in the preceding to go to the conference site and yes I will be presenting at all of them.
For Rootstech, my recorded talk delves into the details of the case where I found a jewish sperm donor; click here for that or here for the blog post. My very basic talk on using DNA to figure out unknown parentage, which I did for them last year, is still on youtube (click here). Roberta Estes has written a number of helpful posts about Rootstech 2022 – one on how to navigate the website and find what you want (click here) and several on using the find your relatives app (click here and here)
For i4GG I usually present what’s new at GEDmatch and sometimes more about the latest tools for finding unknown parentage. My 2020 live i4GG talks can still be purchased with all the other great ones from that wonderful last conference before COVID at https://i4gg.org/2020-videos/
At the brand new East Coast Genetic Genealogy Conference (ECGGC), I will give some of my favorite and newly revised talks, live but virtual. The titles below link to the previous versions of my slides but I will make a note here when the slides are updated.
Getting the scoop on new GEDmatch features over lunch with Verogen’s Tom and Brett
The interpretation of the origins of your ancestors from your DNA is called different things by different companies: ancestry composition, admixture, or, incorrectly, ethnicity. The latter term is borrowed from anthropology and refers to a shared cultural heritage and does not necessarily include shared DNA although it often will. Click here for the definition of ethnicity online. Ann Turner and Debbie Kennett, two genetic genealogists I admire, both like the word bioancestry instead of ethnicity, so that is the word I will attempt to use from now on.
I did a recent talk for the Southern California Genealogy Society’s (SCGS) webinar series on why the predictions vary so much from company to company and whether they are at all accurate. The slides are here and the webinar, free to SCGS members, is archived here (log in to view it). Click here for the schedule of SCGS webinars.
I explained that each company has different reference populations and they were originally focused on Europeans. I suggested reading the article at the ISOGG wiki (click here). I discussed that our ancestors moved around more than you might realize so that bioancestry predictions are not accurate at a country level. Your admix can mainly be determined on a macro scale: the North, South, East, and West of each continent. Some populations were isolated and inbred and thus are easier to predict from the DNA.
Did you know that your dog has 39 pairs of chromosomes? Many more than us humans. The pet DNA testing companies now have features similar to the people testing sites, relative matching, messaging, raw data download, health results, and even a chromosome browser and painting.
Rockie at about 6 weeks (photo by my friend Rochelle)
Last fall I was given a puppy, found by the side of the road near Shiprock, NM by friends of mine. Of course I had to test her DNA. This time I decided to use Embark (this link should give you a discount*). Last time I used Wisdom (click here for that post) which now claims similar features to Embark. The Embark test shows only 38 chromosomes, thus not the sex chromosome, the XY or XX pair. The test is an easy cheek swab and the results came back within a few weeks.
It is important to understand that we humans deliberately created dog breeds, originally to help us hunt or herd, but also for protection or lap pets. The Victorians developed most of the more recent breeds we know today. Wikipedia has a good article on dog breeds (click here) which says “In 2004, a study looked at the microsatellites of 414 purebred dogs representing 85 breeds. The study found that dog breeds were so genetically distinct that 99% of individual dogs could be correctly assigned to their breed based on their genotype…” That sounds like these tests are likely to be accurate as to breeds.
Embark Home Page for Rockie showiin one message (red arrow added by me)
When I logged into Embark after her results came in, I saw the image above. I was surprised that she had no border collie. because that is how her black and white markings looked to me, but apparently the white is from her Great White Pyrenees ancestor. On that home page there are many areas to explore. First I checked her health results, of course, and there was nothing bad there, phew.
Next I looked at the Breeds page which had the same image as above plus a chromosome painting by breed of her DNA. I can see that she has heeler (australian cattle dog) on both sides but Pyrenees only on one side. Both are herding breeds that might have been useful in the South West for cattle ranchers and sheepherders.
When I first started playing with clustering of my Ancestry DNA matches long ago, I found a group of presumed relatives descended from one Thorkhild Westbye of South Imjelt farm in Skougar, Vestfold. These people were not known to be my relatives, so something in my documented tree or their tree was likely incorrect. It so happens that my great great grandad Jørgen Wold, father of my great grandmother Maren Wold Lee, was the foreman on that farm.
My Ancestry DNA clusters from long ago – Added naming is mine
I blogged about the mystery of our DNA matches to the Westby(e) family a while back (click here) and my theory that Jorgen’s father was a Westbye, not the father of record. One of my action items was to find a male line Westbye who would test his Y, since that chromosome passes almost unchanged from father to son (click here for more about the Y) and can be used for deeper ancestry and paternal lines. Autosomal DNA is accurate for close matches but cannot distinguish in this case: between a half third and a half fourth cousin.
If the Y DNA were to match my Wold male line cousin Mike, who has tested, this would help confirm that Jorgen’s father is the Westbye and he and Thorkhild are half brothers. Looking at their eyes in the picture below, they could easily be closely related. If the Y does not match, then likely Torkhild Westbye was my great grandmother Maren’s father, not Jørgen. This would mean that our small matches to Jorgen’s mother’s side could be from some other further back ancestor. Although a failure to have a Y match could also indicate some other break in the line, so I would need more testers …
After much searching of family trees on Ancestry I was unable to find a male Westbye in America to test. However the tree at GENI provided me with a number of Norwegian relatives, one of whom has a great tree at MyHeritage. Thus I was able to contact him.