DNA: Where Are You From?


Map of Y-chromosome haplogroups and the way people groups may have migrated
via Wikimedia Commons

Adam Navis and Liz Waid look at genetic ancestry testing. Would you take a test to discover where your family was from? What if you learned something you did not like?

Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Adam Navis.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand - no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

A man sits at a table. A man and woman are asking him questions about who he is. The man has agreed to take a test. The test will tell him about his genetic history. The man describes what he wants to discover, and what he does not want to discover. He says,

Voice 3  

“I am proud to be English. My family have served and been to war for this country. I know I’m English. My parents have told me that I’m English. So I do not see there being any other option than being English... I do not really like the Germans. This is probably because of the wars.”

Voice 2  

This man’s name is Jay. He was part of a video series by Momondo, a travel company that had a competition. To join this competition people took a DNA test. It showed their genetic ancestry. It showed where each person’s family had come from for many, many generations. Jay thought the test would show that he is 100 percent English - from Great Britain. But he was wrong! The test showed that Jay is 55 percent Irish. He is only 30 percent English. It also showed he is five percent German and even a bit Turkish. Jay responded to the results:

Voice 3  

“I told you I would not want to be German or Turkish and I am both of them. It is just a bit of a shock, really, to find how many different places I come from. I am Jay from everywhere!”

Voice 1  

Jay took this test as a part of an advertisement. But anyone can learn this information about themselves. But would you? Today’s Spotlight is on genetic ancestry testing.

Voice 2  

Every cell of every living being contains DNA. This DNA contains information about a person. Each person’s DNA is different. It makes up our genes. We each have two sets of genes, one from each of our parents. So parts of our DNA are passed on from our ancestors. Humans share over 99 percent of their DNA. So, your DNA is over 99 percent similar to every other person’s DNA. But scientists can compare small differences to discover where a person’s ancestors were from. They gather information about different people groups. Then they compare patterns they find in the DNA. These patterns show where people groups have moved.

Voice 1  

Scientists test DNA by taking a very small amount of saliva - the liquid inside the mouth. Companies test the saliva in a lab. In the past, testing your DNA was not a common thing to do. But today, anyone can pay for this service.

Voice 2  

People want this information for many different reasons. Many of us have information about our parents and our grandparents. But when we go further back in history we know less and less about our families. DNA testing can help people learn more than they can know from relatives or historical documents. Knowing this information can help people feel more connected to their ancestors and history. They can feel they are part of particular cultures and traditions.

Voice 1  

Some people may want to do DNA testing because they want to discover their family history. Throughout history people have been separated from their families. There are also large populations around the world that do not know their backgrounds - where their ancestors came from. An example of this is African Americans. Many black Americans have ancestors who were brought as slaves from Africa many years ago. And there are no records of who their ancestors were. DNA testing provides a way for people to discover lost information about where they are from.

Voice 2  

Many people learn information from a DNA test that surprises them. And some people are also surprised by their feelings about what they learn. Some people have very different ethnic histories than they thought, like Jay at the beginning of this program. This can make some people have negative feelings.

Voice 1  

But some people think that knowing our genetic background connects us as humans. Cassandra Carabello is a student at West Chester University in the United States. Her class did genetic ancestry tests. Carabello identifies as Hispanic - from a Spanish- speaking country. But she discovered she was from many places, including almost one-fifth African and 41 percent Native American. She told the Washington Post:

Voice 4  

“If everyone had the chance to take this test, it would just bring us closer together. I am seven percent Irish. Now I feel connected to that in some way. We have something in common.”

Voice 2  

But DNA testing is not always a good thing. Some experts have found that test results can make people think the differences seem bigger! There are differences in our DNA. But we are much more similar than we are different. And many of the differences between us are made of ideas, not science. The Scientific American Magazine says in their blog:

Voice 5  

“News and magazine articles often report how similar DNA is between groups with a history of conflict - for example, Hutu and Tutsi, Jews and Arabs, White Europeans and Roma. But they do not make it clear that there is no genetic basis for race. We can receive information about how our DNA is different from other populations. But we must remember that these differences are extremely small. If we fail to, it can have serious negative results.”

Voice 1

Humans have built many ideas about how we are separate because of religion, skin colour or tribal background. We are all individuals. But our genes show that people are all connected. Alondra Nelson is a sociology professor at Columbia University. She wrote a book about how people have used DNA test results as a way to stop racial conflict. She told Yes magazine:

Voice 6  

“What is important is not that these tests give you the truth of who you are, your identity. But they suggest how we have come to think about putting people in large groups. None of these groups means anything outside of culture and history.”

Voice 2  

What do you know about your history? Would you like to do an ancestry test? Why or why not? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1  

The writer of this programme was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. This programme is called ‘DNA: Where Are You From?’

Voice 2  

Look for our listening app in the Google Play store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.

Question:

What do you know about where your family comes from? Would you take a test to know more about your genetic ancestry?

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