February 16, 2014
A Distant Son Of Eve
If you believe everything you read in the newspapers, I have a new grandparent. I only knew one of my grandfathers, as my paternal grandfather died before I was born, but now, according to rather fanciful speculation from a genetics research project, I might have another – the man they are calling “the grandfather of everyone in Britain” and “the grandson of Eve.” This all came about when Ian Kinnaird, a retired lecturer from Halkirk in Scotland, decided to pay £200 (about $340) for a test that would reveal his genetic lineage. Mr. Kinnaird was doing some research into the connections between the slave trade and the city of Liverpool, where his mother’s family lived, and decided it would be good to know where his truly ancient ancestors came from. What he found was a big shock for him and for our understanding of where the UK’s genetic stock derived from.
Not surprisingly, for someone whose male lineage is from the north of Britain, Mr. Kinnaird found that his YDNA – that which is traced through the male line – showed a clear Scandinavian heritage, and that he shares a genetic marker present in a quarter of all present day Norwegians. The real shock came when the results of his mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which traces his female genetic heritage, were analyzed. The researchers who produced the analysis were so stunned by the results, they decided to ring him up directly to break the news, rather than waiting to send them by post. They had found that his mtDNA proved that genetic markers on his mother’s side ran right back to an African lineage that had never been found in Western Europe before. They said that his mtDNA was 30,000 years old and, remarkably, only showed two genetic mutations since the first human woman on Earth. Most males have DNA with around 200 mutations since the very first human genomes.
One of those involved in setting up the project said the results were astonishing and that Mr. Kinnaird “could have been in the Garden of Eden,” which is where the “grandson of Eve” and “grandfather of everyone” speculation came from. Given that the company that did the test – Britain’s DNA – is a commercial enterprise, it’s not surprising if they indulge in a little sensationalist phrasing, but there is no doubting the significance of the findings. The lineage they have found goes back to Africa, in the area around what is now Senegal, about 190,000 years ago, and is attributed to a woman who we might call “Eve.” Of all the women alive at that time, only Eve’s mtDNA survived. A corresponding “Adam” also came from West Africa approximately 140,000 years ago and again only his YDNA – the male equivalent – survived.
Having now tested more than 2,000 people, the project has a serious aim to map Britain’s genetic history. But until the results of Mr. Kinnaird’s test came through, they had only been able to trace ancestry back as far as 3,500 years. In a remarkable piece of synchronicity, it is thought that this far more ancient lineage entered Britain by way of the slave trade in Liverpool – the very area of research that prompted Mr. Kinnaird to take the test in the first place.
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