Either I have no DNA or I’m an aberrant hominin

January 11, 2022 • 11:00 am

Several months ago, 23andMe was running a sale on DNA analysis for only $99, which gave you not only a good guess at your ancestry, but also a readout of a large number of nucleotides in your genome—and perhaps the chance to find lost relatives.

I got my kit, spit in the tube, followed all instructions scrupulously, and sent back my material.

During the two months’ wait, I got a fair number of “build up my excitement” emails from the company. I could get my medical information if I wanted—the maladies I’d be most likely to die from! (I said, “No thank you.”). I could find Coynes who shared my genes! The results were on the way! They’re almost here! And so on and so on. . .

And then today I got this:

Apparently my saliva wasn’t good enough. It’s nice of them to offer a free new analysis (I knew that when I paid up in the beginning), but I’ve been waiting for several months for the result. Would I be a Jew? Would I be part Irish? Would I be handsome? Would I be rich? And here’s what they said to me: “Que sera, sera.”

I informed Matthew of this event, and the wag responded, “Why, what happened? Did you come back 50% Neanderthal?”

Very funny, but, as we both realized, the PCR amplification had for some reason failed. I followed the directions carefuly and sent the kit back just a few days after I got it. Frankly, I don’t care if I’m 50% Neanderthal (they’d be able to tell that anyway), as I’ve done pretty well for an early offshoot of modern H. sapiens. (I consider Neanderthals to be H. sapiens rather than a different species because we clearly interbred with them, and the hybrids must have been at least partly fertile.)

So, stay tuned. My Coynezaa present to myself didn’t work out, but there’s still a chance it will.

27 thoughts on “Either I have no DNA or I’m an aberrant hominin

  1. I went through this with 23andMe. Multiple times. After the second “failure” they wanted to give me my money back. I wanted the tests, though. After much back and forth they agreed to allow me to try one more time, but said if it failed again I would be out of luck and get no refund.

    I went ahead. This time, however, I didn’t collect my sample until the morning after I got my kit. I figured that not eating anything overnight and not brushing my teeth in the morning before spitting would maximize the chances of success. So I did that and it worked.

    Good luck and I hope you don’t have to deal with the customer “support” person I had. What a pain!

  2. It is very clear to me why they couldn’t get a DNA reading on you, Jerry.

    Because of your conscientious objector status 50 years ago, they sent some of your DNA to the government, particularly the CIA. Therefore there was not enough left to do the PCR test.

      1. I didn’t have this problem with 23andMe and was successful on the first try. I’ve always had itchy skin so my guess is that I slough off cells readily. I have no children (that I know of) so this is evidently how I spread my DNA. 😉

        1. This was actually the second time I had done 23AndMe testing. This new sample was required after several years time. I don’t know if they didn’t save samples early on or if it was somehow degraded/lost. This added to my frustration when the customer support person insisted “you aren’t a good candidate”. I had been getting their reports for a long time and just wanted to get into the new testing arrays they had come out with. A really annoying experience. I don’t think she actually understood anything about DNA testing at all. Just reading from the same script, over and over again.

    1. “Being very European in ancestry..”, and so you are, with no doubt whatsoever, a descendent of Charlemagne; and so, via at most about 50 generations, a relative via those generations of every other person now alive of European ancestry. Charlemagne is the great, great, ….Grandaddy of all of us Euros.

      But were there no ‘crossovers’, you’d have ~ 2**50 ancestors from his generation. Since
      (2**10)**5 > (10**3)**5,
      that 2**50 is greater than a thousand trillion. Somehow it’s doubtful (to say the least!) that Europe, indeed the world, had, or even has ever had in total, that many people. More like a hundred billion, IIRC. So lots of crossovers, as we all know. You are related to each of those Europeans in many ways, and very likely a descendent of absolutely every European of Charlemagne’s time who actually has any present day descendants.

      Are we people descendents of similarly every Neanderthal of a suitable generation who still has descendents alive? That seems very likely for every person alive today, and that includes Africans, who are usually sort of excluded from Neanderthal ancestry. So likely something there is misunderstood by me.

      Quite without any ancient DNA, actually a decade before that, Chang at Yale, a statistician, had convincingly shown that there is a person from as little as 3500 years ago who is an ancestor of every living human today—every Amazonian, every Inuit, every Australian Aboriginal person, every ‘European’, every Jewish person, etc. Sounds incredible in the true sense of that word, doesn’t it?

      In a different sense, I don’t really understand the interest many have to get this DNA info for themselves, other than perhaps medical, since it seems like far more fun to genealogically trace down specific relatives from the last 6 or 9 generations And because of the earlier above, genealogy seems almost beside the point a number of generations earlier than that.

      1. Chang at Yale, a statistician, had convincingly shown that there is a person from as little as 3500 years ago who is an ancestor of every living human today—every Amazonian, every Inuit, every Australian Aboriginal person, every ‘European’, every Jewish person, etc. Sounds incredible in the true sense of that word, doesn’t it?

        Yes, I think it is incredible in the sense of not credible. Where did this person live such that their descendants would have spread to every human inhabited part of the World in 3,500 years? Australia is the really tricky one. Until the Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century, it was pretty much isolated as far as I know.

        1. Yes, pretty much.
          The 1st chapter, in Rutherford’s book entitled “A Brief History of Everyone who ever Lived”, is itself entitled “Horny and Mobile”. That Joseph Chang discussion takes place starting page 161.
          I think all us Europeans who think of the Australian ‘continent’ as having been isolated tend to think of anything that all Europeans happened to be then unaware of as being virtually non-existent. I think he only illustrates specifically that isolation vis-a-vis the contact between Eurasia and North America through Alaska, where he had changed the parameter to a more conservative 1 person every 10 generations on average—e.g. fisherman caught in a storm near Bering Strait. With many such changes the statistical estimate went only from 3400 up to 3600 years. Australian contact in that sense was surely at least with New Guinea or parts of Indonesia, and thence mainland Asia, and onwards.

          That ‘one person great, great …grandaddy/grandma’ is probably many people (only some of those who actually have ancestors now alive) and soon earlier from lots of widely different parts, but maybe someone can correct me on that.

          How early back in time is it likely that every human then who has at least one living descendent now (e.g. obviously exclude childhood tragic deaths, many others) is it the case that they are ancestors of all alive today? I’d guess it’s not that much more than 3500 years—but be somewhat unsurprised to be corrected on that by an expert.

          In any case, the white supremacists are clearly so full of shit that it’s virtually oozing out of their ears.

  3. Either I have no DNA or I’m an aberrant hominin

    If you actually did have no DNA, wouldn’t that be pretty much the coolest thing ever? Of course, the NSA would have you on the dissection table before you could say “Roswell 47”.

    1. On a less amusing note, it would be quite something if homo sapiens discovers alien life (no need to fuss about intelligence) which uses DNA, RNA, amino acids, proteins, … just as life here does—in fact astounding surely if the genetic code were to be identical—at least until we think about the possibility of the origin of earth’s life being from elsewhere than earth.

      1. Are there any other naturally occurring molecules that could work to encode proteins like DNA and RNA? If we assume not, is there anything special about the genetic code’s mapping of base pairs to amino acids or would any arbitrary code work? For example, using three base pairs seems fairly optimal – two would only allow 16 codons and four reduces information density. What about the individual base -> protein mappings? Are they, in some sense “optimal”.

        1. I think the map is more to amino acids, where roughly speaking you’re talking about which map it is from a huge set — from a 64-element set (because that’s 4x4x4, with triplets of bases)— to a set with something in the low 20s of amino acids. The number of possibilities is gi-normous, and I don’t think there’s anything theoretically special about the unique code that Crick and many others gradually puzzled out in the late 1950s. But life on earth IS special to us!

  4. I would love to be 50% Neanderthal.
    Think about all the attention. Hombre exotico, hombre erotico.

    And, no more work ever because of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

  5. Old school racism is on life support, but at least we can still kick around the Neanderthalers, who as Jerry points out, are us! The left might have been willing to defend “us” (I’m 3.7%!) , but the right wingers got there first. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the future the left were to draw the line between so called “modern’ humans, and their bestial cave dwelling European antecedents.

  6. If at first you don’t PCR, try try again!

    As with others who are of European ancestry, I have a Neanderthal component (3%). Although almost entirely British/Irish/Northern European, I was surprised to find that I had an Ashkenazi Jewish ancestor sometime in the 18th century. Do they also track Denisovan ancestry? I’d be interested to know if anyone of Asian or Australian ancestry has had this picked up. (My partner is Chinese but his 23andme just picked up his mostly Han ancestry with an admixture of other southeastern Asian groups.)

      1. From the 23andme site: 23andMe tests for Neanderthal ancestry at 1,436 markers scattered across the genome. At each of these markers you can have a genetic variant that evolved in Neanderthals and came back into the human lineage when the two groups interbred. Because you inherit variants from both of your parents, you can have 0, 1, or 2 copies of the Neanderthal variant at each marker. We report your total number of Neanderthal variant copies, which is therefore a number between 0 and 2,872. However, nobody has all 2,872 — the most we’ve ever seen in a 23andMe customer is less than 500.

        I have more than 67% of their customers but still less than 2%.

  7. How disappointing! Two months is a long time to wait to hear ‘no cigar!’. Seems like the DNA testing people should have a way to contact non-resulters sooner, so they can restart the process sooner. They should have better instructions on yielding a better DNA sample, as other commenters have suggested above.

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