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Saturday, 31 December 2011

My Neanderthal Past

Interesting news from 23andMe, the organisation that sequences your DNA and reports on your genetic health risks. As a side benefit they can find out information about your ancestors, and this time they've really surpassed themselves. It turns out that 2.9% of my DNA is Neanderthal, a species that Homo Sapiens parted company with tens of thousands of years ago. Seems that some of my ancestors kept in touch though.

That was all a long time ago, so I'm happy to put aside the shame and let bygones be bygones. In any case, the average value for 23andMe customers is 2.5%, and Homo Neanderthalensis are no longer believed to have been the slow-witted brutes we once thought. In related news, I do not appear to have any Native American ancestors, and they reckon I'm ten times more likely to have ancestors from Ireland and Poland than from Britain.

Even though I've got a reasonable understanding of how scientists come by this information, I'm still staggered that it's possible at all. The lives of people who've been dead for hundreds of years are now being illuminated again. As their descendants discover their common ancestors, we can deduce where and when these people might have lived, even how many children they might have had. And this science is still in its infancy.