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Down in our DNA, we’re not so different after all


I wanted to be surprised, and I was.

You may have read before about my Romanian grandparents, who left a troubled Europe in search of a better life. They settled in Chicago, where my mother was born in 1918. My father’s parents had been here longer, hailing from Kentucky, where my dad was born. Ancestry.com says that “Slack,” my maiden name, is of English, Welsh, or Dutch origin.

But back to the surprise (although some people who know me say this makes complete sense): The biggest chunk – 32 percent! – of my genetic makeup is Greek/Italian. Next are both Eastern and Western European, at 20 percent and 19 percent, respectively. Scandinavian – again, a surprise – is 14 percent, and Irish (which includes Wales and Scotland) is 9 percent. My results also put me at 1 percent South Asian and less than two percent West Asian and Middle Eastern.

One of my Romanian relatives drew a detailed family tree, going back generations to a town in Transylvania, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. I checked Ancestry.com, and, sure enough, at some point, a large migration swept out of the Greece/Italy region, up and around to Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, Spain, and Egypt and Libya. Similarly, Swedish and Norwegian Vikings colonized parts of Ireland and Scotland in the 9th and 10th centuries.

I feel like a person in one of those Ancestry.com ads, especially the woman who says, “I had no idea.” Or the man who trades his German lederhosen for a Scots kilt. More than ever now, Greece and Italy are on my list to visit, and I’ll use Ancestry.com to discover possible relatives before I go.

What doesn’t surprise me, though, is that I have that small bit of African ancestry, from regions of northeastern Africa usually considered the Middle East. In research reported by CNN, advanced DNA testing “combined with recently unearthed discoveries are bolstering the belief that if you look back far enough, all living human beings are the descendants of a small, innovative and ambitious set of people on the African continent.”

This common ancestral link is one of the many reasons why racial prejudice continues to confound me … when there’s evidence that somewhere, somehow, we all sprang from the same genetic material.

Genome News Network says there are more than three million differences between my genome and anyone else’s. However, even with this vast number of variances, human beings share more than 99.9 percent of their DNA. That’s less than one-tenth of one percent of difference!

That .1 percent can be powerful. For example, my sister is my opposite in some distinct ways – tall, brown eyes, well-behaved hair, an aptitude for crafts. I’m sure we all know siblings, and even some twins, who could not be more dissimilar.

So I really don’t understand the basis of racial prejudice, how can one person hate another person’s mere one-tenth of one percent as viscerally and viciously as we have seen played out repeatedly in recent weeks.

If that 99.9 percent of ourselves that’s the same could finally figure out a way to get along with the one-tenth of one percent that makes us unique, that would be the most welcome surprise of all.

Andrea Doray is a writer who can’t wait for her sister to get her own DNA results. Contact Andrea at a.doray@andreadoray.com.


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