Friday 26 July 2013

Private Eye on Prince William's "Indian" DNA

I wrote last month about the hyped-up media coverage surrounding the story of Prince William's supposed Indian DNA and my astonishment at the gullibility of the press who lapped up the news unquestioningly without making any checks on the scientific evidence behind the story. The research behind these claims has never been published anywhere other than in a press release from BritainsDNA, a commercial genetic ancestry testing company. The sole voice of criticism in the UK now comes from the satirical magazine Private Eye, who have highlighted the problems in this week's issue in their column Street of Shame, describing how "Fleet Street's finest have swallowed another piece of scientific hokum from self-styled 'genetics expert' Alistair Moffat, rector of  St Andrew's University".1

The reporter comments that "There have been calls from the scientific community for DNA genetic ancestry companies to spell out the limitations to the information they sell. At the very least, newspapers should outline the uncertainties." Quite how we achieve these laudable goals remains to be seen.

1. Street of Shame. Private Eye, issue no. 1345, 26 July - 8 August, 2013, page 7.

Further reading
For the background on the story of Prince William's "Indian" DNA see my blog post dated 19th June entitled BritainsDNA, The Times and Prince William - the perils of publication by press release.

© 2013 Debbie Kennett

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Radio interview - What's your name?

I did a radio interview on Monday 15th July for the WMNF station in Tampa, Florida. I appeared on the Life Elsewhere programme hosted by Norman B. I got the chance to talk a little bit about my Cruwys DNA Project and my surname research. There is a synopsis of the programme here:

I appeared on the programme with my genealogy friends Dick Hill, the author of Finding Family, and Drew Smith, whose new book Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques, written with George Morgan, is due out in the US in September. The programme is now available online and can be heard here:

My segment with Norman and Drew starts at around 27 minutes.

Monday 22 July 2013

New citizen science project to collect DNA samples from Cameroon

I wrote back in November last year of the citizen science discovery of haplogroup A00 the oldest and most deep-rooted branch of the human Y-chromosome tree which dates back around 338,000 years. The scientific paper resulting from this discovery "An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree" was published in February of this year in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Bonnie Schrack, the administrator of the Haplogroup A Project at Family Tree DNA who was instrumental in the discovery of haplogroup A00, is now launching an ambitious new citizen project. She is working in collaboration with Matthew Fomine Forka Leypey, a Cameroonian doctoral candidate at the University of Yaounde, on a project to collect many new DNA samples from Matthew’s own Mbo people, and others across Cameroon, in order to greatly expand our knowledge of A00.

I’m copying below with Bonnie’s permission the letter she submitted to our ISOGG Project Administrators’ mailing list as Bonnie can explain the project far more eloquently than I can:
Dear friends and fellow enthusiasts 
I have an exciting announcement to share with you. Until now, we as genetic genealogists and researchers of deep ancestry have always been dependent on the field research carried out by professional, academic population geneticists, whose priorities and interests have been different from ours. They were the only ones with access to the grant funding necessary to finance such projects. 
It's a new day now - the times they are a-changin'. "Crowdfunding" is one of the hottest new developments in the online world, and with good reason. Now, we the people can launch all kinds of projects, and we can decide what we want to support with our own funds. 
Today we go live with our crowdfunding page for the first grassroots, citizen science organized project to collect DNA samples in the field, in Cameroon! We're using the Microryza website, which is devoted to crowdfunding science research. Here's the link:
Many of you heard about our discovery of the A00 haplogroup, the world's earliest-branching Y-chromosome lineage. It was found in a WTY of the Perrys, an African-American family with an extremely unusual and unique haplotype, and then we found a few haplotypes matching them from members of two African ethnic groups, the Mbo and the Bangwa, who are neighbors in Southwest Cameroon. A few tiny bits of Mbo DNA were shared with Dr. Michael Hammer, and sequenced by his lab and Thomas Krahn at FTDNA. The SNPs confirmed that they belonged to the same haplogroup as the Perry family. 
Calculations by Dr. Fernando Mendez, and others in our community, have placed the branching age of this lineage at anywhere from 200,000 to 338,000 years ago - at the dawn of modern humans' emergence, or before. And so little is known about it!  How far does it extend from those few Mbo and Bangwa families, and can it be found in other peoples? Is A00 a remnant of the earliest, indigenous hunting and gathering peoples of Africa, and if so, when and where were they assimilated into other peoples, who are now settled farmers (though they still hunt)? 
For the first time since A00 has been known to exist, a young Cameroonian scholar, Matthew Fomine Forka Leypey, a member of the Mbo ethnic group, will visit the villages known to harbor significant numbers of A00 members, sample there, and collect information on the families. How do we know which villages have A00?  Because Matthew collected the original Mbo samples, and over 2000 other DNA samples from all over Cameroon, as part of his dissertation research! His data indicate that the Mbo and Bangwa are only two of a number of peoples who have A00 among them. About a dozen other ethnic groups include A00 members, including some Pygmies! Those samples, though, are no longer available to us. 
Now it's time to gather our own samples. We have a series of five field trips planned, to gather samples of diverse peoples in Western, Southern and Eastern Cameroon. Our analysis will include some special areas of knowledge from Matthew's studies, such as how different peoples support themselves within forest and grasslands ecologies, and the effects of polygamy vs. monogamy in patterns of populations' Y-chromosome DNA. 
In the past, it has always been thought necessary to make DNA donors anonymous when they participate in scientific studies. In this project, however, we'll be asking for the donors' names, for several reasons:
1. We want to give them the possibility of receiving their test results, if they are interested
2. We want there to be a future possibility of families who match them, such as African Americans, to know their matches, if they opt in
3. We hope to gather a second sample (saliva) from one or more donors, in order to have a full Y genome sequence done
4. We hope to correlate the haplogroups and haplotypes we find with families of different known histories, such as royal lineages, traditional religious office-holders, and those that are known to have had ancestors held as slaves by local rulers. 
Of course, their names will not be made public except, should they decide to participate and future funding allows it, to their individual DNA matches. 
This is a kind of research, combining genealogy with population genetics, that academics rarely undertake, but which has been occasionally done in papers such as this one by one of the co-authors of our last paper, Dr. Krishna Veeramah: Sex-Specific Genetic Data Support One of Two Alternative Versions of the Foundation of the Ruling Dynasty of the Nso in Cameroon
We have four weeks to raise the $2500 needed to launch our first field trip in Cameroon. Our deadline is August 19th. Then Matthew will set out for the remote mountain villages where he was raised. We look forward to bringing you all along on this great adventure. 
In addition, apart from the appeal for fieldwork support per se, we're looking for a few generous individuals who'll help us obtain a decent (can be used) laptop and a digital camera for Matthew, who's a very low-income grad student. We're also looking for a trustworthy person flying to Cameroon who can take these along, saving us the exorbitant shipping fees. 
Please write to me if you have any leads.
In the near future, the next fundraising campaign will ask for your support for the DNA extraction and the screening of our first set of samples for A00. Stay tuned! Please visit and "like" our page on Facebook:
Looking forward to seeing you, with gratitude for your support,  
Bonnie Schrack
I hope that some of you will be inspired to help this very worthwhile project. If you want to get in touch with Bonnie you can contact her via the Haplogroup A Project website. You can also find her on Twitter where she goes by the name of @Greenleafy.