Genetic ancestry - a personal search

Welcome to Panorama, which this week looks at genetic genealogy - a fast growing field of science which can trace back your ancestral homeland and find your living relatives around the globe.

A few months ago on this programme I talked to representatives of a Prague-based genomic research company about special genetic tests which can tell you where your forefathers came from. Soon afterwards the Genomac company held a news conference dedicated to their new project of a national genographic DNA database. There I spoke to the company's director Marek Minarik and asked him what the database would be good for.

Marek Minarik
"This database serves to put people back together, to allow people to find their genetic relatives they weren't aware of and to put them together, to allow them to contact each other, maybe to exchange information about their genetic pedigrees, about the ancestry information. In a way this is an amusement, because some people do it just out of curiosity. For another part of people this is very important because they have already invested a lot of effort in building these very complex pedigrees of their families. So actually we give them a tool which may be complementary to what they already have."

I understand this only concerns male ancestry, that you don't yet have a database for a female lineage.

"Well, we like to call it the paternal ancestry and the maternal ancestry. Because the access to the database is indeed open to both men and women. The only difference is because right now the database contains only the male chromosome. If a woman is interested in her paternal ancestry, she needs to submit the sample from her brother or from her father or from another male relative."

That's what I've just done - I've taken a sampling kit and I'm going to give it to my father. Now, what can I expect to find out?

"Excellent. I probably cannot guess by the first look because the looks sometimes do not really match the genetic profiles as we have found out. Within a few weeks, you will get an official certificate of a genetic origin where there will be detailed information about the profile, so you will have a number of genetic values. If you show this to somebody who is skilled in genealogy, they will already tell you that you can enter it in this database or that database. And the other part of what you receive is that you will get a certificate of genetic origin. That means that you will get a certain interpretation of where your ancestry comes from, you will get some estimation whether your origin is Slavic or whether you're Romanic or Germanic."

And statistically speaking, what can I expect to find out?

"Well, if you are a typical Czech, I would say that by 20-25, maybe 30 percent, you will be Slavic, you will be a Western Slav. If you fall into the category of the non-Slavic, then most likely you will be of a Romanic origin, which are the Italians, the French and Portuguese people, or you will be Germanic and those are usually the people from Germany, Northern Europe or Scandinavia."

So when the tests are done, can we meet again and talk about the results?

"Absolutely, it will be my pleasure."

A few weeks have now passed and I have been notified that the tests are concluded. So I have come to the company's labs in Prague 5 to meet Genomac's Jan Zastera. He is going to tell me where my distant forefathers came from - and you can imagine how curious I am.

"From your father's DNA we found out that your Y-chromosomal line belongs to the third most frequent haplogroup, or group of Y-genetic profiles in the Czech Republic. This group is called I1B and the first men with this Y-chromosomal line lived in the Middle East and the age of this group is estimated at 8,000 years. The people with this Y-chromosomal line moved from their 'birthplace' mainly to Southern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula.

"Today we can find most people with this Y-chromosomal line in the countries of the former Yugoslavia: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia. Also we can find these people somewhere in Romania and Turkey. It is very probable that some time in the past your great-great-grandfathers came to Central Europe from this geographic area. We don't know when it happened, of course. Molecular genetics is not able to find out when the people with this line came to some place. We can only estimate whether they came with the first Slavic people in the 6th century AD or some time during recent history or on the contrary even earlier."

You said it was the third most frequent type. What are the other two more frequent ones and what is the share of this group in the Czech population?

"The most frequent type of genetic profile in the sample that we have collected in the Czech Republic is a group which is called R1A. This group takes up 40 percent of the men samples. Apart from the Czech Republic, this haplogroup is the most frequent one for example in Slovakia, Poland, western Russia and Ukraine. Also, we can find it in Scandinavia and also in Asia, for example in Pakistan, Bhutan or Nepal.

"The second most frequent haplogroup in the Czech Republic is one we call 'the Western European' haplogroup. It is very frequent in countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy and France and also the British Isles and parts of Germany and Switzerland. Again, we can only estimate when these people came to what today is the Czech Republic. It could have been with some wars or with some foreign aristocracy or the DNA could have been brought by the German colonists in the Middle Ages or more recently."

The company says out of the people who have had their tests done in the Czech Republic, over 3,000 have agreed to be included in the database. The results suggest 40 percent of Czech men are of the so-called Western Slavic origin, 25 percent share genetic origins with populations of the Romance languages countries, 11 percent of Czech men have a "South Slavic" genetic origin, 10 percent Germanic, 9 percent Semitic and one percent are of South Caucasian genetic ancestry.