My family didn’t talk very much about our ancestry and I never had much interest. But recent breakthroughs in genetics and the availability of on-line DNA research services make it so easy to find out where we come from, I figured it was crazy not to give it a try. I looked around, and 23andme.com, with its catchy invitation — Find out if you’re a little bit Neanderthal — hooked me.
I checked the details and was relieved to see that all they wanted was saliva, not blood. I signed up. The collection kit arrived quickly. I opened it, but, since I was very busy, I left it on the kitchen table for a few days. Then I filled it and sent it in.
Three months later, when I still hadn’t received any report, I called the company. They told me they were trying to sort out an anomaly in my sample:
Anomaly? What is it? I asked.
Well, it says you’re 15% Schnauzer and 15% Poodle. We didn’t bother with the other 70%.
I realized immediately that it was my Schnoodle. He must have gotten up on the table and licked the container or chewed on it. I apologized, and they agreed to send me a new one, which I filled and sent off right away. But, once again, there was a long delay, so I called them and they explained:
We had to rerun the sample a number of times.
Not the dog again, I hope!?
No, not that. Even more unusual.
Well, can we first ask you a few questions?
OK … umm … do you have trouble finding hats big enough to fit?
Yeah, in fact I do.
Do you slouch a lot?
Well, my wife is always after me about my posture.
Do you have scabs on your knuckles?
Well, my arms are very long and, with the slouching, they do occasionally scrape on the sidewalk.
Hmm. And do you have hair on your back?
Yes, but doesn’t everybody?
Sure, some, but do you have to shave it?
Yeah, well, I don’t do it myself, even with my long arms. My wife does it. But, really, what is all this about?
Our testing shows that you are 53% Neanderthal, which might explain the head size, the slouching, the long arms, and the back-hair.
Omigod! You’re joking!? That Find out if you’re a little bit Neanderthal blurb was just a light-hearted come-on, right? And, besides, even if I did have some of that, it’d have to be a tiny percent. I mean, they died out eons ago. There must have been thousands of generations to dilute their contribution to the gene pool since then. Right?
That’s generally true, of course. But your DNA numbers could be consistent with the theory that Neanderthals interbred with early humans, and, that, even after they died out, some of their mixed offspring interbred only among themselves for thousands of years. This would have kept their Neanderthal DNA percentage high. It’s possible a few remnants have survived up to now. You could very well be the proof we’ve been looking for.
Yeah, I get the point, but, if it’s true, what am I going to do? What will people think of me? How will my family, my friends, react? How will it affect my kids? What if I lose my job?
What we tell everybody is that you’re the same person you were before you learned what your DNA tells about your ancestry. Nobody else needs to know, not your friends, not your employer. Your kids can grow up and marry normal people (sorry, didn’t mean that to sound offensive). True, the Neanderthal thing is very unusual, but if, by some chance, you did lose your job, you could do something else. Anti-discrimination laws would protect you. Why, you could do anything. You could run for President, you could even be President. After all, it has happened!