Tracing Our Ancestors

On Saturday, I went to a lecture at UIC called “Tracing Our Ancestors”. Rick Kittles, a medical professor at UIC, gave this lecture pertaining to America’s latest obsession… family trees and genealogy. It was extremely interesting to see the maps of ancestry that he displayed on the screen, showing arrows coming out from Africa and into the other continents and countries at different times in our past. The purpose of the lecture was to explain that our globe is a melting pot biologically, yet socially and politically polarized, especially in the past for Africans, i.e.. slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Mr. Kittles talked to us about an organization called 23andMe, in which they send you gene paintings of your DNA and explain to you what is found in your genes- information ranging from whether or not you are more prone to a certain disease to who your ancestors were and where they came from. The most interesting part of the lecture was when he showed us his gene paintings that they sent him. His paintings showed a display of 23 of his chromosomes, not including the X chromosome. The data separated the chromosomes by which continent they came from through both sides of his family. I found in fascinating when he told us that his skin color is so dark because his chromosome 15 was entirely from Africa, different from some of his other chromosomes that were mainly European. Mr. Kittles told us that chromosome 15 holds the skin color gene, and it just so happened that his chromosome 15 was entirely African, indicating the darkness of his skin.

I walked away from the lecture wanting to see my own gene paintings and figure out which chromosomes of mine are from which continents and what diseases have been passed through my family for generations. A couple years ago, National Geographic allowed people to send in DNA samples and they would tell you the progression of your ancestors out of Africa and into the United States. 23andMe seems to be bringing this idea to a whole new level, separating one’s actual genes to which continent they came from. Genealogy is a fascinating subject to me, and I would love to send in my own DNA samples to discover information from my own ancestors outside of the usual “family tree” of names and birth dates.

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