Deep Into DNA
a monthly column by Mike Maglio
We are all special in our own quirky ways. How much does your DNA play a part in who you are? Perhaps you’re not who you think you are. If you’ve received DNA results from one of the major tests, y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA or autosomal DNA, you might already have a glimpse into what makes you special.
Beyond the big tests that give you distant paternal or maternal ancestry or a pie chart of your ethnic mix, there are many specific tests. What percent Neanderthal are you? There’s a test for that. The jury is still out on whether your Neanderthal genes are from a direct descendant or just shared from a common ancestor. When we start talking about what percent chimpanzee you are (yes, there’s a test for that) we are definitely talking about a common ancestor going back seven million years. Just to be clear, we are not descended from chimpanzees or any other living ape, but as cousins, we do share DNA. Just wait, there will be a test that tells you just how much DNA you share with any other creature on the planet. Have you ever noticed how some people look like certain animals, hmmm.
How do you handle stress? Do you tend to be aggressive? Do you have the ‘warrior gene’? Every guy out there should take this test. The next time someone says, “You’re being mean!”, you can say that’s because I have the ‘warrior gene’. To be fair, women can have the ‘warrior gene’ also. The gene is on the X chromosome and women have two of those. They are likely to have one ‘normal’ copy and not present their ‘warrior’ side. It seems like it is getting more difficult to define ‘normal’.
You may see advertisements for DNA tests that are very specific, like Native American, African or Jewish. There really is no such test. While some of these companies are very reputable, they are catering to that part of you that wants to find out if you are special. They are really offering one of the big three tests, y-DNA, mt-DNA or at-DNA. It’s important to understand what you are buying. If you want to test for Native American ancestry from your mother’s side and that Native American specialty test is really a y-DNA test under the covers, then your results will be negative.
If you are looking for Jewish ancestry, what you are actually looking for is y-DNA haplogroup J results or mt-DNA haplogroup K results. Here’s where we get into more specialty testing. Being y-DNA haplogroup J is not enough. There have been studies that show descendants of the Jewish Cohanim (priests) correlate closely with two J subgroups, J1c3 and J2a4. These designations are outdated (2010) and are also known as J-P58 and J-L26. These are SNPs (snips), mutations in the genes that are used to help organize genetic relationships within the larger DNA family tree. When you have a y-DNA test, the most basic SNP test is done to determine your haplogroup. For haplogroup J, this topmost SNP is J-P209. Someone who is J-P58 also has SNPs P209, M267 and L136, branch points on the y-DNA J tree. Each of these SNPs can be ordered as individual tests or as a complete package. There are hundreds of SNP tests available to help you find your unique branch.
Are your parents really cousins? Take this test and find out now! Ok, I don’t think that anyone is really offering that test. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. If you have an autosomal DNA test, you can compare the results against itself. On Gedmatch.com, they offer this tool for free. While its intent is to identify parents that are cousins, the results may also indicate incest.
The autosomal DNA tests can be used to identify hundreds of health indicators, such as, risk factors for Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Some health indicators can be purchased as individual tests. Examples include tests for Freckling or Bitter Taste perception. I would think that these might be obvious without a test. My favorite test is for Earwax Type. I’m hoping to get that one for my birthday.
These specialty tests can be serious, frivolous or somewhere in between. It’s important to understand what you are buying. The old saying, “You get what you pay for”, meaning that the more expensive test is the better test is not necessarily true. Be an educated consumer.
What makes you special? The answer may be in your DNA.
© Mike Maglio 2012
This article originally appeared in the December issue of The In-Depth Genealogist. Receive The In-Depth Genealogist free by subscribing HERE.