Tracing Our Ancestors

At UIC forum, I attended a lecture called Tracing Our Ancestors, which was given by professor Rick Kittles. Throughout his slideshow, he presented the audience with information about using DNA as a method to trace a person’s ancestry. He talked to us about how the human genome consists of ~20,000 genes, ~3 billion nucleotides, and 23 pairs of chromosomes and then related it to polymorphisms. Through single-nucleotide polymorphisms, we are able to denote genetic variation and similarities in humans. This relates to our curriculum in which we recently studied the structure of DNA and the information we can get from it. He then transitioned into discussing about how there was enormous genetic variation in Africa and how 80% of African Americans believe in tracing ancestry through DNA testing. Rick Kittles claimed that human demographic history can be reconstructed using genetic data and how it relates to how people identify race. Research about human genetics has begun to challenge biology and what the definition of race is. People self-identify race by emphasizing the geographic origin in addition to skin color and ancestry. The United States serves as a melting pot for the convergence of diverse ancestries and cultures and a new continuum of variation is further established through admixture. After discussing this information, he proceeded to showing the audience of maps of the US census and where certain races resided throughout the country. It turns out that less than 1% of African Africans live in the West, and most appear in the South and East, which makes sense due to the flow of the slave trade from Africa. Through a website called “23andme”, he was able to obtain a chromosome painting that gave him information about his background information. This database gathers information regarding people’s lineages and background information is more accurate and easier to track down through studies of DNA and chromosomes. When it was time for Q&A, a lady asked about why she did not have diabetes although her mom and her grandmother did and whether or not this had to deal with something in her ancestry. It appears that environmental influences, such as her diet and exercising played into account of why she did not have diabetes. I believe that this discussion was more informative throughout the plethora of information that was provided to us. I was fascinated to learn about how during the race discussion, Rick Kittles brought up the point about how people self-identify race for different benefits. For example, people have historically self-identified themselves as Native American for the reparations even though they only had one ancestor that might have had Native American origins when tracing their ancestry.

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