DNA analysis is making more progress with every day that passes and it’s easy to believe that we will soon be able to pinpoint our genetic ancestry with a clarity that would have seemed impossible only a handful of years ago.

Genetics has already transformed many of our notions of ethnic identity to the point that many people have changed their own ethnic self-identification because of a DNA test.

While it won’t reach a point in the near future that would cause you to change what you check off on an official form, it will certainly be an interesting topic of discussion with friends and family.

Until two or three years ago, most ancestry tests for individuals relied on short stretches of DNA in cell-powering organelles called mitochondria, which you inherit through the mother, or via the father’s Y chromosome passed down from father to son.

Because DNA mitochondrial tests are widely used by family historians—they’re less costly—some the companies who offer them should be explicit when describing ancestral tests and the limits of what customers will learn.

Scientists are now studying whole genomes, which hold a more complete picture of our geographical ancestry.   It’s more difficult to tease out information from the 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes, because whole stretches of DNA is mixed up with every generation, but great strides are being made in mapping the ancestry of populations with these studies.

Hapologroub R1b is very common among Western European men and many people would be surprised to learn that a small fraction of North Africans also have it.

A geneticist at the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom, Mark Jobling is quoted in “nature International weekly journal of science” as stating, “…if men have a Y chromosome that is more common in Scandinavia than England, they’re convinced they’re a Viking.  But that is not necessarily the case.  Such nuances are not always conveyed by the companies that offer such services. What’s more, Y-chromosome or mitochondrial markers trace only one strand in a person’s ancestry.”

For more information, click on nature International weekly journal of science to read the informative article and learn how Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host of Finding Your Roots, surprised former US Secretary of State and national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice when she learned that nearly half of her genetic ancestry be traced to Europe.

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