“Ireland’s DNA,” a program that allows people to track their genealogical history, has been officially launched today. Through analysis of a person’s DNA, researchers can trace back a person’s ancestors through the centuries.
The Irish Times reports on the new genealogical program commencing in Ireland, inspired by a similar Scottish project.
“We are planning it as a national project,” said Dr. Gianpiero Cavalleri who is one of the three founders of Ireland’s DNA. “The more people that get involved, the more we can understand about Irish history from the resulting dataset.” Dr. Cavalleri is a biomedical research lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and heads its epilepsy genetics group.
The project in Ireland was launched after a similar began in Scotland just six months ago. The Scottish project was created after the publication ‘The Scots: A Genetic Journey,’ a book that explored the genetic history of Scots.
The Scottish genetics book received plenty of positive feedback, Dr. Cavalleri founded with the two authors of the book Scotland’s DNA project to help finance further study of the country’s collective genome The two authors of ‘The Scots: A Genetic Journey” Dr James Wilson, a geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, and historian Alistair Moffat.
Almost 1,000 people have paid to have their DNA ancestry assessed in Scotland already. “Now we are going to use the same concept for Ireland,” said Dr. Cavalleri.
Cavalleri initially got the idea some years ago while at Stanford University after he became fascinated with the idea that you could identify past human migration by looking at the male-only part of the genome, the Y chromosome.
“With DNA you can really go deep into the past to learn where your ancestors came from,” said Dr. Cavalleri. No doubt, with the ever expanding Irish diaspora around the globe there will be an increasingly large pool of people who will want to trace their genealogical origins.
While delivering completed genomes was overwhelmingly expensive decades ago, the prices have since fallen making it simpler to create genomes in order to track ancestry. With the completion of about 20,000 genomes so far by labs around the world and has thus opened up the possibility of direct Y chromosome comparisons between individuals and groups.
“Up until recently we might have had a genetic signature for the northwest of Ireland collectively as being Irish. What has happened since is we can split up the Irish type. The higher resolution comes from the sequencing of the human genome.”
“We look for markers and see what they are telling us,” he says. “A marker is part of the DNA that is different between people. Those differences arise with each generation.”
While most an individual’s genome is made of a mixture of the mother’s and father’s DNA, the Y-Chromosome in males does not mix in a substantial way. Cavalleri likens it to the Olympic torch as individual runners carry it from city to city on the way to the games, with each carrier leaving a mark on the torch. The Torch essentially remains the same, only slightly altered.
“By looking at those spelling changes you get a sense of how those people have moved. After all, we are part of one big pedigree,” said Dr. Cavalleri.
The Y-Chromosome, however, is unique to males. Female lines can be traced via mitochondrial DNA that is only passed along by female lineages. Similarly, women can co-opt either a brother’s or a father’s DNA to show the ancestry, according to Dr. Cavalleri.
Surprisingly, the price isn’t to do so isn’t astronomical. €250 to analyse both the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA and €210 for either one or the other.
Dr. Cavalleri insists that the data retrieved is kept private. “The data is all stored separately on a server, it is not shared with anyone,” he says. “It is only used for ancestry. It is not used for any medical purposes. It is only used to study the history of Ireland and Scotland.”
Interested in learning more about tracing her DNA history? Head to irelandsdna.com to learn more.