The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, December 11, 2009

How knowing about our DNA changes our sense of who we are

Genomics Forum deputy director Steve Sturdy has an article on the new twists that genomics has given to ideas of biological, social, ethnic, family and personal identity - reinforcing some, undermining others, and leaving few untouched - in the current issue of The Philospher's Magazine.

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Philosophers have written quite a lot recently on the philosophy of biology. Professionals largely agree that the writings of Alexander Rosenberg are the most accessable and informative. The place to start is Philosophy of Biology, which he wrote with Daniel W. McShea (Routledge, 2008).it is almost entirely devoted to genetics, evolution, and their relations.

I found the article ever so slightly disappointing. Not personal enough?

I submitted a cheek swap to the National Geographic's Genographic programme. I was expecting a run-of-the-mill Y chromosome connected with agricultural expansion into Europe. Like my spouse, who gets a lo-res match every other week or more. I've had none in nearly 5 years. Closest matches are with Samoyed tribes and Finns. And they aren't that close. I'm some sort of outlier. Get free upgrades to larger marker tests.

A Warsaw scientist contacted me wondering if I was a bastard descendent of Rurik I, the Saami-Varangians vikings being half Finnish. But I was odder than that on the upgrade. (Apparently Ivan the Terrible was a cuckolded heir).

Apparently, haplogroup N for the Y-DNA is associated with original hunter-gatherer stock of Europe. After a trek west across the tundra/steppes.

DNA testing makes me feel ancient.

I was expecting something interesting on my mother's side (Irish, but with the main connection through her father), but nothing special showed up; maybe they didn't go into the mitochondria on that test, or maybe my mother's mother wasn't as London Irish as I thought. But my father's side (he was a Scot from Dundee) came up with a hard and fast, distinctive Dalriada connection.

As a teenager I was entranced by the sheer improbability of my own existence: 2 unique gametes (didn't necessarily know the lingo back then) which could oh so easily've missed each other, and bingo- I'm not even here. I mean, if my mum or dad had brushed their teeth for 30 seconds longer, or some other minor variation. Literally mind boggling! ;)

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