26 Apr 2016

Who are you too?

Last year, I posted about my DNA "origins" results, which indicated that about 15% of my "DNA heritage" comes from India. The test was useful for explaining my proclivity to tan (not kidding!), recessive "thalassemia" blood condition, and more about my father's birth and upbringing in India.

The troublesome thing, if you will, was that my father has always had a "English" nationality and heritage separate from Indians (see the first post for my definitions of these words). Yes, he had a cultural affinity for India -- the food, the movies and love of heat -- but now he has a genetic link. His test revealed that one-third of his DNA originates in the subcontinent.*

Now I had an inconsistency to investigate: how is it that my father's eight great-grandparents were "English" but he was one-third "Indian"? It seemed that some of these Englishers were not "pure" but mixed into the rest of the people. Indeed, it seems that his family was a different kind of Anglo-Indian:**
The term Anglo-Indians can refer to...  "Of mixed British and Indian parentage... or (chiefly historical) of British descent or birth but living or having lived long in India" [dz: without mixing]. This article focuses primarily on the modern definition, a distinct minority community of mixed ancestry, whose native language is English.

During the centuries that Britain was in India, the children born to British men and Indian women began to form a new community... These Anglo-Indians formed a small but significant portion of the population during the British Raj, and were well represented in certain administrative roles.
These definitions allow me to match the DNA with the "official history" in a way that makes sense (my grandfather Andrew worked for the Raj), rather than carrying on some assumption about English and Indians staying separate.

Rather than worry about "the milkman," I can just say that these Jameses, Williams and Susans were Indian in more than a few ways. I'm curious to know how they lived among the relations they ruled, but most of them are dead, and the novels and movies about Anglo-Indians seem to exaggerate a bit.

Bottom Line Nobody is "born to rule" just as nobody is "born to a nationality." We are all people from places and cultures who have mixed in different ways. Is there one, pure, correct way? Not unless you're a hypocrite.

* My born-in-Romania girlfriend got her results: 99% Romanian/Balkan, which is suspicious for a region that's been criss-crossed for ages. Perhaps these tests are vulnerable to a "baseline" bias of who's considered to be "from" somewhere, but let's ignore that issue.
** I had never heard this term applied to my family.

Addendum (28 May 2016): DNA-tools are quickly moving from "identity" to "modification." The future of GMO-babies is less than 5-years away. Are you ready?

Addendum (4 Feb 2017): Watch this to see how information challenges people's prejudices.

Addendum (9 Sep 2017): Genes != ethnicity != identity, meaning that my "Anglo-Indian" grand parents were genetically 1/3 (or more) Indian but didn't act that way ;)

Addendum (15 Mar 2018): Genes are not the only way we inherit traits from our parents.


Anonymous said...

I was intrigued to read that you had a genetic test done recently and found out you were 13% Indian. I happen to be a small investor in COMPANY X which has the dominant share in X market​. So naturally I'm pretty interested in how this market is developing. As an economist, it's always intriguing to follow the pace of adoption of products or services that have Moore's Law price declines.

So, you mentioned the ancestry data. How about health risks? Did you use 23 and Me, and if so do they still provide such data now that FDA has cracked down on them? How much did your test cost and how satisfied are you with the results? Would you consider contracting with a company like Promethease for further analysis of the data?

David Zetland said...

@anon -- Fascinating. Thanks. I will upload my data as I am interested in markers, etc.

I used 23&me and their reports are pretty useless in terms of action, but fun in terms of trivia (not just India, but I am statistically "slow muscle" "milk tolerant" "light sleeper" etc.). What it does is indeed make me think about what I can expect or compensate, as well as what I might just give up on.

As an economist, I'd say that "access to information" is always an interesting market, and -- seeing how excited we are about ourselves on social media -- DNA testing and interpretation will be a HUGE business, as it joins ego, life planning and financial considerations. I can see how the FDA may be cautious, but the upside is 10x the downside (it's not like Americans are fleeing the country in record numbers due to publication of murder rates or Trump's promises!)


Cool beans! Or curry... I can attest to your proclivity to tanning and slow muscle. I miss you dude!

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