Tracing Our Ancestors

Rick Kittles’ talk focused on how differences and similarities in DNA could be used to trace ancestry. We of ourselves as black or white or any variety in between, and this is seen everywhere, from ACT test forms to the U.S census. Rick Kittles pointed out that no one is really just black or white, rather we are 84% black, 12% white, and 4% Pacific Islander.

I thought this was an interesting concept mainly due to the example Rick Kittles of African Americans. Many African Americans want to use DNA to trace their ancestry because they are not where they come from due to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. However, this can be a difficult task because African Americans have European genes too. Usually mitochondrial DNA can be traced because it is passed maternally, but that can a dead if an African American has a female ancestor on their maternal side who was European. I thought this was interesting because not only did European colonialism set the stage for a more connected world and in the case of Africans, displace people from their homes, it also effected our genes. Genes that were usually found in Europe made their way into Africa, and genes that were found in America found their way into Europe, etc. The gene pools of these locations changed, and as a result, we cannot really claim to be completely European or completely Asian.

Another interesting point the Rick Kittles brought up was that because of the variety of the combinations of genes, race does not really exist. Humanity originated in African, which explains why 50% of variations in genes are unique to Africans, but also that technically, we all have the same genes. The combinations of the genes and which allele is dominant is the only thing that differentiates humans from each other. These combinations are the results of advantages in differing environments. Skin color depends on what genes are present on chromosome 15. For example, Mr. Kittles told us that the reason his skin color was so dark was because the genes on his chromosome 15 were all from Africa, as compared to someone like Halle Berry, who probably had some genes from Europe on her chromosome 15, which explained her light skin even if she was associated as African American.

This talk made me want to find out where my genes from. I wanted to find out whether I have any European genes because of English colonialism in India. Although at certain points I felt that Mr. Kittles’ talk was dull because of the lecture like quality of it, I thought his examples made it interesting and made me think about genes as something more than what is passed down in a family tree.


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