Thursday, June 08, 2006

Walter Mitty Rides Again!

Imagine this: balding, mild-mannered accountant is at home, pottering about, when the phone rings, and a man from Oxford University informs him that he is a direct descendant of GENGHIS KHAN! In the male line, no less!

Imagine no more, it really happened to Tom Robinson, professor of accounting at the University of Florida: read more here, here, and here (free registration required), here, and here

Dr. Robinson was researching his family tree and had established that his great-great-grandfather, John Robinson, had emigrated from Cumbria in England to Illinois. Reaching a dead end, in 2003 he submitted a scraping of cells from the inside of his cheek to Oxford Ancestors. The company traces people's ancestry to specific regions of the world based on their Y chromosomes, which track paternal descent, or on their mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the female line.

"They told me my mother's side of the family came from France and Spain and my father's side probably originated in Central Europe," Dr. Robinson said in an interview yesterday.
. . .
Recently, Bryan Sykes, the geneticist who founded Oxford Ancestors, decided to look through his database of some 50,000 people to see if there were any anomalous matches with Genghis Khan's Y chromosome. "We get people wanting to know if they are related to Genghis Khan and they never are unless they come from China or Mongolia," he said yesterday in an interview from England.

Among his non-Asian customers was one hit: Dr. Robinson. "Someone rang him up and I think it came as a nice surprise," Dr. Sykes said.

This research builds on the identification of a Y chromosome sequence that has been related to Genghis (Chinggis to us purists) Khan. As the abstract for the research establishing this says:

We have identified a Y-chromosomal lineage with several unusual features. It was found in 16 populations throughout a large region of Asia, stretching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea, and was present at high frequency: 8% of the men in this region carry it, and it thus makes up 0.5% of the world total. The pattern of variation within the lineage suggested that it originated in Mongolia 1,000 years ago. Such a rapid spread cannot have occurred by chance; it must have been a result of selection. The lineage is carried by likely male-line descendants of Genghis Khan, and we therefore propose that it has spread by a novel form of social selection resulting from their behavior.

How's Professor Robinson taking the news?

''I think I do have a certain number of administrative skills,'' Robinson said, noting he was once president of a local financial analyst society. "I haven't done any conquering, per se.''