Friday, October 10, 2008

An Interesting Encounter...

Several months back, in a forum discussion, the present author came across something quite interesting on the website of the owner of the said forum—going by the name of F. W. Sweet, and this is what it says/said:

"It seems that Dr. Shriver’s maternal grandfather moved from Pennsylvania to Iowa, then to California, leaving behind in the process most of his ties with his relatives.23 Dr. Shriver, it turns out, (see photograph above) is one of the 74 million White Americans with significant recent African genetic admixture.

In a coincidentally similar fashion, Dr. Rick Kittles, Shriver’s collaborator from Howard University in Washington, discovered that he carries the FY-null genetic marker at genome position 16q24.3. This marker is found in 998 out of every thousand Europeans but found in only one out of thousand Africans. Many of Dr. Kittles’s other ancestry-informative markers tell the same unexpected story. Dr. Kittles (see photograph above) is one of the many Black Americans with strong European genetic admixture. And yet, and there is no other way to say this, Dr. Shriver “looks White” and Dr. Kittles definitely “looks Black.” Why is there such a discrepancy between measured genetic admixture and physical appearance?" - by F. W. Sweet

At the time, this is what the present author posted in response to the extract:

Yes, I’ve seen both Dr. Shriver’s and Dr. Kittle's appearance, and I must say, it is hard to believe that either have low European or African recent ancestry respectively. If indeed the labeled sample belonged to either party, assuming that the said alternative coincidences did not arise from any probable technicality in the labeling, then I can only come to the conclusion that, the DNA sites examined as such, were made possible because those sites were kept intact in either one of their immediate parents, and if Shriver’s mum’s reaction is any indicator to go by, upon hearing the news, these markers would have been kept intact in her “white-appearing” father. Speaking of father, according to Mr. Shriver, how did he reach the conclusion that it had to be from his mother’s dad’s side, and not necessarily from his mother’s maternal side? Also, could it not have come from his father's side, and if not, why? Were many of the said ‘markers’ deemed to have been sex-biased in their genetic transmission?

I had the result for two or three years before I even looked up the ID number of the person whom we tested. I looked at who it was and it was me! I checked myself and the rest of my relatives and tracked it through my family. I never considered that there were any African people in my family. There’s no real variation in my family. The admixture must have been pretty far back. It just so happens that we can detect it with the markers we have. My mom especially stood out as being surprised, maybe because I told her it was coming through her father. She still doesn’t believe it about her family! The part of Pennsylvania where my mother’s father came from is where the Underground Railroad ended. There are several towns right here in Southern Pennsylvania where there are very light-skinned African-American communities that are the remnants of the Underground Railroad. - by Shriver

So, not only would those markers have to be deemed “invisible” in terms of their impression on phenotype, but they would have had to remain intact to account for their genetic integrity throughout the parent-to-offspring transmissions for at least a few generations. For Dr. Kittles to retain that level of melanin, it occurs to me that he’d had to have been a product of a union between parents from families that had maintained endogamy for at least a few recent generations, likely of families that have had long enough tradition of socially identifying with the “black“ or “colored” community. I suspect, since I cannot say for certain without independent corroboration, that either of these two researchers would likely indirectly clue us in on this possibility through either paternal and/or maternal DNA markers, which by normal account, correspond to Y-chromosome markers and mtDNA respectively. Either that, or else more “AIM” would have been needed to be identified to account, if not *indirectly*, for the genetic component counterparts of their ancestors who were responsible for transmission of their phenotypic appearance - as is the case with skin color and hair texture for example. I realize these traits have their own markers, but I'm referring to the broader hereditary component of the parties who were primarily responsible for transmitting those traits. It is hard to imagine that only those 'visible' markers of those ancestors withstood the test of time, while every other component of their genetic transmission was swamped through the generations, particularly for 'immediate' family households who would swear that the maternal and paternal lines of the said family come predominantly from one ethnic endogamous group [be it "white" or "black"].

With regards to piece about Kittle’s ancestry, this was said:

In a coincidentally similar fashion, Dr. Rick Kittles, Shriver’s collaborator from Howard University in Washington, discovered that he carries the FY-null genetic marker at genome position 16q24.3. This marker is found in 998 out of every thousand Europeans but found in only one out of thousand Africans. - by F.W. Sweet

But in the tables provided, this location should have been associated with MC1R-314*, and not the FY-null marker, which is supposed to have been located at 1q23.2. Was this a typo, or something else is at work here?

And indeed, that was a typo, as the author himself admitted, upon my issuing of the notification above. If indeed the typo was in wrongly naming the loci, which it appears it is/was, then MC1R-314*'s — an allele known to prevalent in folks of recent African ancestry — location in Mr. Kittles' sample should come as no surprise.

Short of some extraordinarily rare situation of these two geneticists — aka Shriver and Kittles — being products of union between a) a parent heterozygous at certain loci linked to outward phenotype traits like skin color, eye color, hair thickness et al., which are generally observed predominantly in one geography than another or in one ethnic group than another, and a parent largely homozygous across said loci, b)OR else, between parents who happen to both be heterozygous at some or the other section of said loci, wherein the offspring [in this case, either Shriver or Kittles] somehow wound up being largely homozygous across said loci, from the look of things, there are very strong indications here that what Shriver was actually looking at as his own, might well have been Rick Kittles' DNA sample, and likewise, Shriver's DNA sample was mistaken for Kittles'. There might have been a technicality at the lab [could be labeling mishap for example, though some other yet-to-be-determined factor(s) could have been the cause] , which somehow escaped both Shriver's and Kittles' attention, and so, they took it for granted, no matter how awkward the results turned out to be, as their own, respectively. This would explain the seemingly reverse results for each candidate, who coincidentally, were partners on research work. Short of specific independent corroboration, obviously this amounts to conjecture on my end; let's just say that I'm throwing out there, a possible scenario for what could have accounted for the results we are told about, aside from considering one of those rare genealogical situations. One thing most of us would agree on, is that those results are certainly interesting!
*Further reading:

Skin pigmentation gene alleles

Skin pigmentation gene alleles — Part 2