Wednesday, March 14, 2007

DNA ancestry testing-- a uniter, not a divider?   posted by p-ter @ 3/14/2007 11:48:00 AM

From today's NY Times: "At a Harlem Reunion, a Rancher From Missouri Meets His 'DNA Cousins'".
[I]n walked the new cousin: a Missouri cattle rancher named Marion West, 76. It was Mr. West's first visit to New York City, and he stood out partly because of his rancher outfit: black cowboy hat, shiny boots, string tie and a jacket advertising a feed company. But he also stood out because he was a white man greeted by a roomful of black New Yorkers embracing him as a long-lost member of their family.
"If it's my story, it's many people's story too," Ms. Higginsen said. "It's the real story of America. People are finally asking: 'Whose blood is running through our veins? Who are we? Who of us is black, and who's white?' They're realizing there are no thoroughbreds among us, and nobody's 100 percent anything in this country."

As a stickler, I have to note that being 100% black or white is a pretty meaningless number to non-geneticists (in terms of posterior probability of belonging to a certain group, there are definitely people that are close to 100% something, but that doesn't mean all those people are genetically the same, as I imagine John Q. Public would interpret it), but whatever. So a white dude in Missouri shares a Y chromosome haplotype with a black family in Harlem. This is not surprising (African-Americans are an admixed population, after all), but I suppose this is a serious advance in the understanding of genetics for your average man on the street. As genetics gets involved more in our day to day lives, it's likely that your average person's intuitive sense for what genetic information "means" will improve. This can only be a good thing. I mean, hell, these people are laughing at jokes about heterosis!
He brought laughter to the room when he spoke of cattle breeding.

"I've been breeding cattle all my life, and I'll tell you, cross-breeding is better," he said. "You mate the black angus with the other breeds, and you have better, healthier offspring."
If things continue at this rate, who knows? Maybe agnostic will get his own talk show.