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Genealogy: Are you related to Moses?

The Cambridge-based genetic testing company "Roots for Real" has been analyzing maternal and paternal lineages on behalf of its customers for nine years. The company's database contains tens of thousands of samples and, according to its own account, is "the most extensive gene database in the world, in which verified mtDNA samples are linked to geographical locations". We spoke to the founder of “Roots for Real”, Dr. Peter Forster (42), about Neanderthals and Ur-Europeans, Moses and Charlemagne.

WORLD ONLINE: If I gave you a sample of my saliva, what exactly could you say about my ancestors?

Peter Forster: Since you are a woman, we could examine your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited unchanged from grandmother to mother, to daughter and so on to all descendants of the female sex. On average, small mutations occur in the mtDNA every 10,000 years. Now the ancestors of all people living in the world emigrated from Africa about 60,000 years ago, which means that there are now thousands of types of mtDNA outside of Africa. And so we could tell you which type of mtDNA you belong to and where it occurs most frequently worldwide. If you were a man, we could also examine the Y chromosome, which in turn is inherited exclusively from father to son etc. and, like the mtDNA, changes slightly from time to time due to mutations.

WORLD ONLINE: The oldest bones found by modern humans in Europe suggest that Homo sapiens came to Europe about 40,000 years ago. So, with the help of your genetic analysis, I could find out whether my ancestors belonged to the original Europeans or whether they immigrated later?

Ranger: Correct. We could even narrow down the habitat of your ancestors in Europe, i.e. determine whether you belong to the Western or Eastern Europeans, the old gathering and hunter culture or the later peasant culture that immigrated.

WORLD ONLINE: And what conclusions can I draw from these findings?

Ranger: Adopted children, to give a practical example, could narrow down the origins of their biological parents. The growing body of data also helps to refine genetic dating and better understand prehistoric migratory movements. And every gene sample that we examine brings us closer to the currently intensely discussed question of whether there has been a mixture of Homo sapiens with the Neanderthals, who at least 30,000 years ago still lived on the Iberian Peninsula and safely from them Africa immigrants had contact.

For example, a skeleton that archaeologists found in Spain shows external features of the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. So far, we geneticists have not been able to discover any traces of the Neanderthal genome in Homo sapiens. But one has to consider that only two thirds of the Neanderthal genome have been sequenced. Proof of the intermingling of humans and Neanderthals could be if the microcephalin gene, which is important for brain growth and can be detected in the genome of around 70 percent of all samples examined so far, is also found in Neanderthals.

Since the microcephalin gene dominates in those population groups that formed after the ancestors emigrated from Africa, some scientists suspect that the gene only entered our genome through mixing with the Neanderthals, the only known second genus.