An exciting prospect for those interested in exploring their Irish heritage lies ahead with the work of a new company called Ireland’s DNA. Set up to help trace a person’s genetic heritage, the company is launching in Dublin today (Thursday 3rd May).
Within the article (published in the Irish Times newspaper), Dr Gianpiero Cavalleri, a biomedical research lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and one of three founders of the company states:
“With DNA you can really go deep into the past to learn where your ancestors came from.”
A decade ago it was tremendously expensive to deliver a complete genome but today prices have fallen and it is feasible to think of using DNA technology to identify ancestry. About 20,000 genomes have been completed so far by labs around the world and this has opened up the possibility of direct Y chromosome comparisons between individuals and groups.
The more genomes completed, the more the resolution improves, and the better the ability to see back in time. “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.”
It all comes down to comparisons. “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.”
Most of our genome is a mix of our mother’s and father’s DNA, but the Y chromosome 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.
The same torch is passed from person to person but imagine that each person is able to leave behind a mark on the torch, a small spelling change in the DNA. “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.” It is all about knowing what markers are hidden in a genome pointing towards one ancestry or another.
“There is a fascination with this type of work,” he says, and people can now participate via the company. The male Y chromosome can be traced but it is also possible to track female lines via mitochondrial DNA only passed along by female lineages.
It costs €250 to analyse both the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA and €210 for either one or the other. Women don’t have a Y chromosome but often co-opt either a brother’s or a father’s DNA to show the ancestry, Cavalleri says.”
This is a really enticing opportunity for anyone who is interested in tracing their roots and as can be seen from the above article, the journey in doing so has the potential to reveal some surprising results.
Millions of people around the world consider themselves to be of Irish heritage and up until now the ability to trace ancestors via genetic science would have been considered out of reach for most – for more information visit www.irelandsdna.com or read this article in full on the Irish Times website.