Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hand-Me-Down-Genes: Best In Show

There are those diamond studded moments in life when your children make you proud beyond belief, and tonight was one of those nights. My youngest daughter Kristen took away the “Best in Show” award at Trinity Christian Academy’s science fair. The topic was genetics and her title was “Hand-Me-Down Genes.”

Last fall after my wife was tested through 23andMe,a genetic genealogy company in California, we were kicking around ideas about the school's science fair. Since a number of my family had tested with 23andMe, I thought perhaps the rest of our family could get tested and maybe Kristen could do something regarding genetics and our family.

She began thinking. Hmm, she just felt genetically she was more like her mother than she was like me. After all, her dad listens to bizarre old music; he tells corny jokes; he also wrote this very longgggg dissertation. She couldn’t be more different than me.

As for her mother, there just seemed to be more things in common. Both like to cook; they are artistic. Like her mother, she has green eyes and they like most of the same things including music, but most of all – the two look so much alike.

To show the similarities, we morphed photos of the two that were taken when both were almost two years of age. The resemblance is uncanny. My brother Chuck suggested, that we cue the “Twilight Zone” theme. See what you think.

Her question was “Are children are more genetically like one parent over the other?” Kristen's hypothesis was "I am more like my mother than my father."  We tested her sister as a control and utilized information from other family members that have also been tested with 23andMe for additional data. Using data retrieved from 23andMe, Kristen set out to prove or disprove her hypothesis.

When the data came back from 23andMe in February, she was surprised at the results. Children share 50% of their genetic material from each parent. Even though she seemed more like her mother, she was genetically equal to me and her mother. Her hypothesis was disproved.

In addition, she learned that the only chromosome that she received from a parent that was exactly the same as that parent's was the X chromosome that she received from me – her dad.

While they each received an X chromosome from their mother, it was a recombination of both of Pam’s two X chromosomes. The X chromosome that each received from Pam was not identical like their X chromosome from me. Each one had a unique combination of alleles.

How did the girls stack up to their other relatives? Here are the results for some of our relatives who have tested with 23andMe.

 Relative  Kristen’s
 Average Share
 for Relationship 
 Sister  48.67%  48.67%  50.00% 
 Grandmother  27.45%  28.16%  25.00% 
 Uncle Chuck  25.34%  25.29%  25.00% 
 Uncle John  20.24%  20.08%  25.00% 
 First Cousin
9.13%  7.38%  12.50% 
 Their Dad’s
 Half Cousin
2.80%  3.83%  3.13% 
 Their Dad’s
 Second Cousin
2.14%  2.47%  1.56% 
 Their Dad’s
 Fourth Cousin
0.17%  0.18%  .09% 

While there were other relatives that had tested, the girls didn’t share any DNA of note with the following: my third cousin on my dad’s side, two of my fourth cousins on my dad’s side, my fourth cousin once removed on my dad’s side, and a couple of my fifth cousins on my mom’s side.

The above results tell me that both of my girls share slightly more of my mother’s DNA than they do my dad’s. They are more like their grandmother than their first cousin is. Their shares with their Uncle John and his son Michael are on the low end – but this makes sense as I only share 40.99% of my DNA with my middle brother. When Kristen heard that she shared more with her Uncle Chuck than her sister does, she screamed “Oh no, I am like a weird old man!” Strangely enough, he took that as a complement.

My daughter Lora shares more than average with my cousin George. Coincidentally the grandmother that George and I share was named Lora and both of us have daughters with that name. I didn’t know this when we picked Lora’s name.

Both my daughters share more than average with my second cousin Dick who also has our surname. Even another Owston relative, our fourth cousin Lorrie and the girls share about twice the amount of DNA than average.

Although not included in the study, we learned other interesting things. In global similarity, Kristen was mostly French/German and Lora was mostly Norwegian. Pam and I both are at the crossroads of English, French, German, and Norwegian. She is more Norwegian on the scale and is at the exact same location as my brother Chuck on global similarity.

All of us are 100% European dispelling the story that one of Pam's recent ancestors on her birth mother’s side was Cherokee. It did not bear out in the genes. She had also heard that her birth mother had French ancestry, and this appears to be accurate as many of the individuals she shares genomes with on 23andMe are French Canadian.

It got a little scary when we ran a test on Kristen’s genome for homozygosity and it revealed that her mother and I have a pretty significant shared segment on Chromosome 6. It’s not large enough to matter, but it is there and probably indicates that we are 7th cousins – which is probably as close a relationship that we each have with a number of people we interact with on a daily basis. Our common ancestor would have lived 225 years ago. How we might be related, who knows? We probably never will know - but our marriage is legal in all 50 states in case anyone asks.

On a final note, thanks to the judges for their decision and thanks to Kristen for making her family proud once again. Great job – keep up the good work.