Daughters Of Eve, Mothers of Europe (And America)

Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, author of

The Seven Daughters Of Eve: The Science That
Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry
just might
have what it takes to become another

Carl Sagan
or

Louis Leakey
– that rare scientist with both
the scientific skills and genius for
self-promotion needed to make himself a
household name.

Sykes
has many talents, as well as some useful vices. As this
book shows, he`s a fine popular science writer. He also
has a sizable ego and a flair for self-dramatization
that annoys other scientists but appeals to the public.
He often tends to portray himself in The Seven
Daughters
as a Galileo single-handedly doing battle
with the benighted masses of anthropologists and
geneticists like Stanford`s distinguished

L.L. Cavalli-Sforza
, who, according to Sykes` not
exactly neutral account, just didn`t want to admit the
importance of his mitochondrial DNA research.

Most
importantly, though, Sykes has grasped a simple fact
about population genetics that resounds emotionally with
the average person, yet has largely eluded most learned
commentators. Namely, genes are the stuff of
genealogy
. Each individual`s genes are descended
from some people, but not from some other people. Thus,
Sykes discovered, people often feel a sense of family
pride and loyalty to others, living and dead, with whom
they share some DNA.

Further, if you read between his lines, you can readily
understand why – despite all

the propaganda that "race does not exist"
– humanity
will never get over its obsession with race: Race is
Family. A racial group is an extremely extended family
that is inbred to some degree.

In
fact, people are so interested in tracing their family
connections that Sykes has gone into business for
himself. He started a for-profit firm

OxfordAncestors.com
. "Discover
your ancestral mother
," he advertises. For $220
he`ll trace your DNA (actually, a particular set of your
specialized

mitochondrial DNA
) back to one of the seven Stone
Age women who are the ancestors in the all-female line
of 95% of all white Europeans.

Sykes
calls these “the Seven Daughters of Eve.” (He`s
piggybacking on the much-publicized concept of the
primordial "Mitochondrial Eve" from whom all women are
supposedly descended.) One of his sales slogans: "Which
daughter was your ancestor?"

(If
you happen to be from a non-European race, well, Sykes
has got 27 other matrilineal clans sketchily worked out
for you. Still, the Eurocentric, cashocentric Sykes
tends to treat those non-Caucasian ancient mothers as if
they were The Twenty-Seven Stepdaughters of Eve.)

Some
scientists are appalled by Sykes` shameless
entrepreneurialism. Myself, I think that the
self-effacing saints like the late

William D. Hamilton
(the greatest theoretical
biologist of the 20th Century and the genius behind more
famous biologists like

Edward O. Wilson
and

Richard Dawkins
) and the attention-seekers like
Sykes both serve useful purposes in advancing science.

The
key to Sykes` business is that within a particular set
of stable "junk DNA" in the mitochondrial code,
mutations happen every 10,000 years on average. Last
spring, in "Darwinophobia
I
," I explained why junk genes are so useful to
geneticists studying individual or racial genealogies,
yet so useless to the bodies they inhabit since they
don`t do anything. But these genes` uselessness means
they aren`t subject to Darwinian selection. So they are
passed on unchanged, except by random mutations.

Of
course, precisely because population geneticists
like Sykes and

Cavalli-Sforza
study only useless genes that don`t
do anything, they don`t have anything credible to say
about useful genes, like the ones that influence IQ. To
learn about nonjunk genes, you need to read behavior
geneticists like twin expert

Nancy Segal
or intelligence gene finder

Robert Plomin
.

Without going into the technical details, a study of
mitochondrial DNA allows you to track the line of purely
female descent in your genealogy. This is the opposite
of the "paternal line of descent" by which your surname
came down to you. (The male line can be tracked through
tests of the Y chromosome.) The maternal line is your
mother`s mother`s mother`s etc. – all female, all the
way back.

You
can visualize your maternal line this way. Mentally lay
out your family tree, with you at the bottom. Place your
father above you to the left and your mother above you
to the right. Fill in all your grandparents,
great-grandparents, and so forth, always keeping the
males to the left in each pair. Then, the matrilineal
line of descent is the extreme right edge of your family
tree (just as your last name comes from the extreme left
edge).

Sykes
has put together a chart of these functionally trivial
but genealogically interesting mutations that allow him
to state, for example, that the woman who claimed to be
Anastasia Romanov (who was portrayed by Ingrid Bergman
in her Oscar-winning performance in

Anastasia
) could not have been the daughter
of the Czarina murdered by Lenin.

(Of
course, considering how many surviving members of the
Romanov extended family she fooled into thinking she was
Anastasia, the possibility remains that she might still
have been some kind of biological relative of the
Romanovs. Perhaps she was fathered illegitimately by a
member of the Czar`s side of the family. Neither Sykes`
matrilineal test, nor a Y chromosome patrilineal test
can rule that out.)

Sykes
has identified seven mitochondrial mutations of
particular genealogical importance. Logically, for each
mutation there existed an individual woman.

Who
were these seven women? They weren`t the only women
alive at the time. They probably weren`t even the first
ones to be born with their distinctive mutant junk gene.
Each of the seven daughters is simply the first after
the appearance of their mutation to have a daughter who
had a daughter who had a daughter and on and on in an
unbroken line of female descent down to the present day.
They are special only in the rather arbitrary
genealogical sense of each being on the extreme right
edge of the family tree of tens of millions of modern
Europeans.

For
example, Sykes estimates that the oldest of his Seven
Daughters lived about 45,000 years ago. Judging from the
archaeological record and from where her descendents are
found today, he guessed that she lived in Greece. Then,
going completely off the deep end, he decides to name
her "Ursula." He even appends a fictional chapter about
what life was like for this purported Ursula in a
bison-hunting tribe. He does the same for the other six
matrilineal forbears.

Obviously, these seven chapters owe as much to

Clan of the Cave Bear
and the novels of

James Michener
as they do to hard science. For
instance, we don`t even know whether humans 45,000 years
had names – they might not yet have had much in the way
of language.

Still, while Sykes doesn`t write as engrossingly as
Michener did, he`s not bad at all for a lab scientist.
Controversial as these fictional chapters are, they do
provide some of Michener`s didactic virtues.

Significantly, it turns out that people can`t help
caring, emotionally, about who is in their family tree
as far back as 1,800 generations ago. As Sykes says,
"When two people find out that they are in the same clan
they often experience this feeling of connection. Very
few can put it into words, but it is most definitely
there."

Humans may be hardwired to care about their genetic
relatives. Of course, having family feeling toward
somebody 45,000 years distant would appear to be a
little too much of a good thing! (Natural instincts are
often taken to extremes in modern settings.)

I
suspect that women tend to be more interested than men
are in their matrilineal ancestors. That`s fair enough –
genealogists have been tracing the patrilineal line for
centuries. For example, my father`s laboriously devised
family tree begins with a shadowy character known only
as:

"X
Sailer, patriot from Lucern, 1290-1340."

Obviously, my connection with old X is extraordinarily
tenuous – especially since I`m adopted!

Yet
sometimes I hope that, seven centuries from now,
somebody named Sailer will be looking at his family tree
and wondering about:

"Steve Sailer, patriot from Studio City." 


[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and


movie critic
for


The American Conservative
.
His website


www.iSteve.blogspot.com
features his daily
blog.]

December 21, 2001