Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Seven Daughters of Eve

Somewhere upstairs here at the new Worldwide Headquarters, up the steps and to your left, past the little Christmas tree, bend to the right at the box of kitchen utensils, around past the front of the ancient printer, more to the right at the dismantled futon frame, way back in the right corner, deep in the recesses of a box that used to be filled with styrofoam cups for food service use lies a pretty cool book. It is called the Seven Daughters of Eve and it was written by a man named Bryan Sykes.
What he did was go around and collect pieces of the inside of people's cheeks. I mean, it's not like he was wandering around cutting off pieces, that is just how they take DNA samples these days: with a cotton swab on the inside of the cheek. So Mr. Sykes is collecting DNA samples from around the world, in fact, people were actually sending him samples from all over. What he and his scientific cohorts did was analyze these DNA samples for their mDNA, which stands for Mitochondrial DNA. The reason they looked at this mDNA in particular is because males don't pass it on, it is only given from mothers to their children. So, for example you have mDNA from your mother but not from your father, and if you are a girl you will pass it on to your children, if you are a boy then sorry, you are the end of the line. Anyway, since the mDNA is only passed down through the female bloodlines, it directly connects each child to their mother, and it never mixes with the mDNA of the father, so it allows one to trace people back to similar mothers. What the researchers doing this found was something pretty shocking and amazingly cool. They were able to trace all roughly 731 million of us with European ancestry back to SEVEN DIFFERENT WOMEN in history; the seven women he dubbed the "Seven Daughters of Eve."
The "daughters" have names: Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine, and everyone of European ancestry is related to one of them somehow. In fact, they mothered all of us way back to when. They are the ancestral mothers of the lot of us, or at least those of us who are of European ancestry. I am not sure that I can adequately explain how cool this is. Just let it roll around in your brain for a little while: he took DNA samples from all of us and figured out that we all came from seven different people. SEVEN. Most of us can't trace our ancestry back seven generations, let alone back to simply seven people.
Now, some of you creationist types out there aren't going to buy into this whole idea, and that's okay. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and your belief, I won't take that away from you. But however you choose to reconcile your beliefs with scientific discovery, I think you still have to be pretty impressed that it has been able to be boiled down to seven people, who existed God knows how long ago. I can only begin to imagine what their lives were like, and it completely blows my mind to think that those seven women were wandering around the plains or the forests or wherever and they had no idea how important they would become one day. They never realized the consequences of the offspring they worked so hard to birth, raise, and protect. They couldn't have known consciously that the seven of them would be the roots from which Europe spread forth.
The problem, however, is that there are more than seven of these women. See, the researchers on this project only dealt with Europe and the seven genetic "clans" that they were able to identify there. As it turns out, most of the major ethnic groups in the world will be able to be boiled down to similar groups of "clans" so that the seven daughters of Eve will actually end up being the thirty daughters of Eve or the fifty daughters of Eve or whatever. For example, the Japanese, on whom Sykes and his cronies were working at last check, have nine distinct genetic "clans" that have been identified. So I would guess we can expect similar numbers for Aboriginal Australians, Africans, or people of Middle Eastern descent.
So what does this all mean, Big Dave? Where do we go from here? What can we expect next? I can hear the questions loud and clear, but I have no answers for you, Company. I mean, I am not a genetic researcher. In fact I know next to nothing about DNA and using it to trace ancestry or any of that jazz. That will have to be left to people far smarter than I. I suppose that we will just have to wait as the researchers go about their business, painstakingly narrowing down the roughly six billion or so of us into the product of a select few women somewhere in antiquity. We may never know exactly to what it whittles down; it may prove to be too difficult to discern between the "clans" of some genetic group, and that's okay. I still think it's fascinating what they are doing and what they are able to do. And I think that I would totally read the book. I would even let you borrow it if you were interested, if I could find the damn thing that it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Personally i find it horribly offensive to think that all the d-bags I come across could be from the same genetic stew as me. 1 out of 7 is not odds in my favor