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Professor Bryan Sykes - Genetics as History

Tuesday 21 October 2003
For immediate release
Announcement by the Royal Society of New Zealand


Pete Hodgson's Ancestral Mother: Tara, Xenia, Katrine, Jasmine, Velda, Helena, or Ursula?

On Thursday night, 23 October, at the UNESCO NZ Science lecture in Dunedin by Professor Bryan Sykes, some of New Zealand's top scientists will find out which "daughter of Eve" they are descended from. And lecture goers will have the chance to discover their own Stone Age tribal mother, if they can guess the correct result for Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon Pete Hodgson. The Prize of a free mitochondrial DNA test will be drawn from the correct entries.

The mitochondrial DNA tests carried out by Bryan Sykes' company, Oxford Ancestors, have been replicated by the University of Otago's Genetics Programme and Centre for Gene Research on DNA samples supplied by Minister Pete Hodgson; the Chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, Margaret Austin; winner of the 2003 Rutherford Medal for Science and Technology, Emeritus Professor George Petersen; the Deputy Mayor of Dunedin, Dame Elizabeth Hanan; the President-Elect of the Royal Society Academy Council, Professor Carolyn Burns; and four of the newly elected Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand: Professors Robin Smith, Alison Mercer, Rosalind Gibson, and Dr Allan Crawford. With one exception, the results will be announced following the lecture. The Minister's result will be announced, along with the winner of the competition, in the Otago Daily Times the following day.

A new service offered by Oxford Ancestors involves the line of DNA inherited down the male line - the Y chromosome. Professor George Petersen, New Zealand's 'father of DNA', will also find out through this test whether he has Viking ancestry. Knowledge of molecular genetics has heralded a whole new age of genealogy, and the Royal Society of New Zealand is pleased to announce a series of lectures by the best-selling author who spearheaded much of this work, Professor Bryan Sykes of Oxford University. There will also be a book signing by Professor Sykes at the Otago Museum from 1.00pm-2.00pm on Thursday 23 October.

Professor Sykes is able to use the nucleotide sequence of mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited solely through the female line, to create an evolutionary framework going back 150,000 years. The framework reveals that almost everyone in Europe, or whose maternal roots are in Europe, is descended from one of only seven "daughters of Eve". Each of these women founded a maternal clan whose descendants make up well over 95% of modern Europeans. Eve was the original mother of all modern humans who lived in Africa c150,000 years ago. At his lectures around New Zealand Professor Sykes will look at how the study of mitochondrial DNA demolished any scientific basis for racism, revised our knowledge of the colonisation of the Pacific, and changed how we viewed Homo sapiens' settlement of Europe, a continent once dominated by the Neanderthals.

Professor Sykes has come to New Zealand as The University of Auckland Sir Douglas Robb lecturer for 2003. The Royal Society, in partnership with the British High Commission and British Council New Zealand, is hosting additional lectures in Dunedin (with UNESCO), Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington and Palmerston North as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. The lectures are free, but to be assured of a seat at the lectures, those interested should email the addresses given below with the city in the subject line and their postal details in the body of the message:

Dunedin - UNESCO SCIENCE LECTURE (no tickets are left for this lecture, but there may be a few seats available on the night) 5.30 p.m. Thursday, 23 October, St David Lecture Theatre, University of Otago, Cumberland St. Tickets from sykesdunedin@rsnz.org

Christchurch 8.00 p.m. Thursday, 6 November, C1 Lecture Theatre, University of Canterbury, Entrance off Creyke Rd. Tickets from sykeschristchurch@rsnz.org

Nelson 7.30 p.m., Tuesday, 11 November, Nelson School of Music, 48 Nile St. Tickets from sykesnelson@rsnz.org

Wellington 7.00 p.m. Monday, 17 November, Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Tickets from: sykeswellington@rsnz.org

Palmerston North - Allan Wilson Centre Lecture Series 5.30 p.m., refreshments served from 5.00 p.m. Tuesday, 18 November, Japanese Lecture Theatre, Massey University. Tickets from: sykespalmerston@rsnz.org

ENDS

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