Tracing Our Ancestors

Rick Kittles gave a very engaging presentation, which left me wishing to find out more about my own ancestry. In his presentation, he discussed the methods by which human demographic history and ancestry can be reconstructed with genetic data, and the growing popularity of tracing family history and ancestry using genetics. His presentation gave me a better understanding of how a topic we have studied in class, genetics, can be applied to not only studying heritable diseases and traits, but also tracking one’s ancestry.

I liked that Kittles focused on African ancestry in particular because it was a topic I wasn’t as familiar with before. After this presentation, I became a bit more skeptical about how we perceive race as being directly tied to skin color, which actually isn’t a very accurate indicator of one’s ancestry. One of the most interesting points that he made was that Africa has more genetic diversity than Europe or Asia. The high genetic diversity among African-Americans is not only due to the diverse African ancestry, but also admixture with non-African Americans. Surprisingly, 95% of the African American gene pool today comes from only west and central Africa. Even so, African Americans have very diverse origins and unfortunately in many cases are not aware of their own ancestry.

I admire Dr. Kittles’ work in helping African Americans discover their heritage, especially because of the huge amount of genetic diversity among African Americans. I think the implications of his work are tremendous, especially because knowing one’s family history and ancestry can be a useful tool for determining risks for genetic diseases such as prostate cancer.

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