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Professor Bryan Sykes - Genetics as History

Friday 24 October 2003
For immediate release
Announcement by the Royal Society of New Zealand

Pete Hodgson, the Minister for Research, Science and Technology, can trace a direct line of maternal descent back to a woman who lived in Syria about 10,000 years ago, according to results just announced by the Royal Society of New Zealand. As part of a visit by best-selling author Professor Bryan Sykes, the University of Otago has run tests on several eminent New Zealanders' mitochondrial DNA.

The tests 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. Described in Professor Sykes' book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve", the framework reveals that almost everyone whose maternal routes lie in Europe is descended from one of seven clan mothers. Eve was the original mother of all modern humans who lived in Africa about 150,000 years ago. Jasmine, from whom the Minister is descended, is the most recent of the seven, and lived near Syria around the end of the last ice age.

Other results announced last night show that Kiwis' proportions of clan mothers seem similar to those in Europe, with almost half of those tested coming from Helena, the most common "daughter of Eve". Helena's descendents include new Royal Society Fellows Professor Alison Mercer, Professor Robin Smith, Dr Allan Crawford, and Professor Rosalind Gibson, as well as Royal Society CEO Dr Steve Thompson. Forty-seven percent of modern Europeans belong to the clan of Helena, who lived around 20,000 years ago.

Professor Diana Hill, chief executive of Global Technologies NZ and chair of the Marsden Fund Council, is a descendent of Xenia, who lived about 25,000 years ago. Today, about one percent of Europeans and six percent of native Americans are descended from Xenia.

Professor Sykes' genealogy testing company has a new "Viking" test, which was done for Emeritus Professor George Petersen, New Zealand's "father of DNA". This test analysed the Y chromosome, passed down the paternal line, to discover where his male ancestors had originated from. Professor Petersen's Y chromosome showed a very rare result - it seems his paternal ancestors came from North Africa about 5000 years ago and worked their way up into Norway. They were then part of the Viking incursions into Britain.

At his lectures around New Zealand Professor Sykes will look at how the study of mitochondrial DNA has 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, 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. The remaining lectures are:

Christchurch

8.00 p.m. Thursday, 6 November, C1 Lecture Theatre, University of Canterbury, Entrance off Creyke Rd. Tickets from sykeschristchurch@rsnz.org or the university bookshop (from Tuesday)

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

For more information, contact Glenda Lewis or Lynley Hargreaves, 04 4705 758 or 025 210 0997, email Glenda.Lewis@rsnz.org.


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