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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My mutating mitochondrial grandmother, August 25, 2001
This review is from: The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry (Hardcover)
Genetic research is where all the science headlines are being made. If you are one of the scientists making the headlines - good for you. If you are able to write well, and can make your subject accessible to the layman, and do so with humor, all the better. So it is with Bryan Sykes and THE SEVEN DAUGHTERS OF EVE. This is the sort of book that probably drives equally qualified, but dry-boring-subject and less-literary-talented scientists green with envy. This book is a genuine can't-put-down science thriller. The substantive subject of this book is the genetic ancestry of Europeans, specifically Sykes' contention that 90% of Europeans can trace their maternal ancestry back some tens of thousands of years to one of seven women, the most ancient of which lived 45,000 years ago. In taking us on a trip backwards to meet our great-grandmothers (thousands of times removed) he reveals some very interesting tidbits such as: > The ancient Iceman found in a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991 was proven to be of European origin, and no hoax. Sykes also made the first of his headlines by stating that Iceman had relatives currently alive and well in England. He produced one of these persons - Marie X - for the press, and was able to prove from his large database of DNA, that there was an "unbroken genetic link between Marie and the Iceman's mother stretching back over 5,000 years and faithfully recorded in the DNA". > Sykes has established almost to a certainty, that the bones found outside Ekaterinburg, Russia, in 1991 are in fact those of Czar Nicholas II and his family. > He also says that Polynesians came from Southeast Asia, rather than from South America. This not only disproves a long held belief, but because this journey is against the prevailing currents and winds, makes them some of history's best sailors. Interesting as they are, these are merely samples of what his DNA work is capable of. The real interest in the book is in his research on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and how its unique characteristics assist in determining ancestry. Mitochondria are organelles within cells that provide energy to the cell; sometimes referred to as "the fire within" they possess their own DNA - mtDNA. Unlike chromosomal DNA, mtDNA is not "mixed" (half from the male and half from the female) during reproduction; mtDNA is passed down from the mother only and passed on unchanged - with one exception - at certain points in time mtDNA mutates. These harmless mutations are not random but occur at specific and infrequent intervals (once every 10,000 years). They are passed down through suceeding generations and act as genetic markers of common ancestry. By looking at differences between mtDNA in living persons (Sykes has a vast collection, and is constantly looking to add to it; readers can send samples to the address provided...or Not!) and comparing it to samples from archaelogical specimens, Sykes is able to trace ancestry. This is what he did in order to come up with both the seven daughters (representing seven clans of European ancestry) and Eve herself (she came from a small human population group in Africa). This book touches on all the current topics in human origins and genetics. The debates about whether genetic variation is greater within a group or between groups; the genetic basis for races; the "Out of Africa" theory on the origins of man. If any of this is of interest to you, Sykes is more than willing to share his opinions with you, and he does so in a lucid and very readable manner.
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