So you think I'm Irish, do you? (Eddy's Celto-Iranian-Kazakhstani DNA Surprise)

So you think I'm Irish do you? A proud Scot? (Yes, I have a kilt and voted for progress), English/British? (been frequently mistaken for such), Canadian? (been called that more than once), or Swiss perhaps? (Ja, spreche Ich ein bischen Baerntuetsch, naeturlich!).

Hmm, well you're in for a big surprise (as I was)... but first a little lesson....

DNA is a molecule which has genetic information encoded in it (it has a famous 'double-helix' shape - see below). It is the main constituent of chromosomes, which are the building blocks of life and essentially make you you, and me me. Men pass yDNA onto their sons, women pass mtDNA to both sons and daughters. DNA is unchangeable; thus, once you discover what yours is, you and your offspring will keep this DNA signature for the entirety of your life/their lives. 

An so, it was my 42nd birthday* present to myself last year, when I paid £200 to get my DNA profile checked. 

I knew something was up when, after the expected six weeks of processing had elapsed, no reply was forthcoming from the "Scotland's DNA" research group at the University of Edinburgh. Eight weeks, then ten weeks passed, and still no reply. Finally, after enquiring, I was told: "We've found no markers for your mtDNA, it needs to go back to the laboratory for further tests".

But after a full twelve weeks - I got the email and PDF files which contained the results:

It was my mother's DNA (mtDNA) that has caused the delay - so rare that further sequencing was needed in the laboratory. But my father's was much more common, which was as follows:

Paternal (yDNA): No surprises here, as my yDNA is one that my father would have been proud of acknowledging- it is described as "Pretani (R1b)", dating from the first settlers to arrive in Britain and Ireland after the ice-age some 10,000 years ago  - to which we can broadly ascribe the name "the Celts" (and who would be pushed west much later by the Angles, Saxons and Normans). Today, the highest concentrations of people with the same yDNA signature are to be found in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany (NW France), and NW Spain (Basque country)  - see map). 

And my Maternal DNA (mtDNA): What a shock! It comes from an area stretching between the Zagros mountains of western Iran and the Altai mountains on the border between Kazakhstan and Mongolia from 40,000 years ago! Here's a snap of the Altai mountains:

My earthly God - what beauty!.... Well don't ask me how it got to Ireland or Scotland - we simply don't know, but we can surely speculate (successful nomads, slaves, warfare). But the evidence is clear... and so here's a pic of an average (computer-generated) Iranian face with me beside [a] two photos of me as a broody young man, [b] at the later and wiser age of 42 - can yee see the likenesses?

(a) (b)

One day in the future (and sooner than you'd think), we'll all know our complete DNA histories back to the ice-age, and theoretically our phones (or similar smart media devices) will beep every time a relative passes us' might sound scary but it's coming, and it opens up an enormous new potential wealth of knowledge / new understanding.

Q: But aren't we all related to one another if we go back far enough, like as in Adam & Eve?

Ans: Ahem... well, nope this is not quite an appropriate way to think about it when it comes to DNA. This is because DNA has a known rate of mutation and thus certain DNA markers can identify certain groups (or families) of people, but not others.

Eddie, Stornoway, 2014

N.B. *42 being of course the answer to life, the universe and everything (Douglas Adams in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe").