by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 7, 2007 in DNA and Genealogy
Last week’s Nature news article about personalized genomics was interesting in more ways than one. I was particularly intrigued by the picture they used showing three generations of East Asian (probably Chinese) women looking at a laptop. It got me wondering if they were at all representative of the type of consumer who’s interested in personalized genomics. What does the Chinese community think of genetic genealogy anyway?
Generally speaking, I don’t believe genetic genealogy companies based outside of Asia can provide much information for Asians primarily because their databases are made-up of people who are not Asian. If you look at any article about genealogy using DNA testing, the same ethnic groups or populations pop up again and again – whites, Europeans, Africans, Native Americans, and Jews. What are the chances that a genealogy DNA testing company in the US or UK has enough data on other Chinese people like me so that I can learn more about my family tree or find matches with distant relatives?
In Singapore, there are Chinese clan associations that keep detailed records of descendants – but only male descendants really count because they carry on the family name. Some of my Chinese-American friends have gone to China to visit their family’s village and can trace their family trees back many generations. Me? I can barely trace further than my grandparents.
One company that has done some testing of Chinese DNA is Family Tree DNA. Group administrator Ivan Shim runs the China/Chinese DNA Project which aims to map “the distribution of the various Chinese haplogroups & subclades around the world.” As of today, 42 Y-DNA tests have been run and of these, most appear to come from the O haplogroup. Eighteen mtDNA tests have been performed with seven people in the M* haplogroup.
The Genographic Project uses Y-DNA and mtDNA to trace ancestry which can be interesting for anyone, including the Chinese. Two years ago, a Chinese reporter from Singaporeâ€™s Todayonline (article offline) participated in The Genographic Project and was surprised to find that her DNA mapped to haplogroup H, which is associated with more than half of all Europeans, many North Africans and Middle Easterners, and some Northern Indians and central Asians. She apparently belonged to an understudied branch of haplogroup H.
Jeff Yen in Singapore got his Genographic results late last month. His genetic markers showed that he belonged to haplogroup O2. Jeff’s ancestors most likely started in Africa, traveled through the Middle East, Iran or southern Central Asia, then Central or East Asia, and finally East Asia approximately 30,000 years ago. Interestingly, one commenter pointed out that Jeff’s haplogroup is unusual for a Chinese person and indeed there is only one person in the Family Tree DNA China Project that belongs to haplogroup O2. For Genographic Project results that typify Chinese males, see this pdf file for haplogroup O.
Have you taken a genealogy DNA test before? Why or why not? Were your results what you expected? I’m especially interested in hearing from people of Chinese heritage.
For more about genetic genealogy, Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist is the one to visit. You may want to start with his free eBook – 10 DNA Testing Myths Busted and Other Favorite Posts.
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