Saturday, December 10, 2005

Fun with Mitochondrial DNA

Unlike my last post about reading when your mind is sidelined by a cold virus, reading about genetics, even written for the layman, obviously takes a certain dogged concentration. Our latest book display near the Reference Desk is called "Non-Fiction that Reads Like Fiction." A lot of science writing these days is very readable and entertaining and usually fairly comprehensible, even for the science/math-challenged among us. At least you won't be tested after reading these.
A reference question from a patron who wanted to know where and from whom he is descended in pre-history, got me going on mitochondrial DNA - which is the kind that passes unchanged (except for occasional natural mutations) down the matrilineal line. This is the kind of DNA that was tested to determine that there were seven women in pre-history who were the common, maternal ancestors to currently living Europeans. How this research came to this conclusion is told in the Seven Daughters of Eve by Brian Sykes. The theory is not undisputed but it's a lot of fun to read about. For a very funny review click on "My Mum is Older Than Your Mum" reviewed in the Observer. Reviewer Robin McKie notes that, "It is an intriguing story, though qualifications should be noted. For a start, the Seven Daughters of the book's title refer only to Europe's founding mothers. Another 26 maternal lineages have since been uncovered on other continents, although Sykes ignores them, presumably because The 33 Daughters of Eve makes a crap title." That's the kind of bluntly funny review you will never find in a U.S. newspaper.
I also took out The Human Genome and Genetics Demystified, which looked like nice primers to bring me out of my three decade out-of-date bare bones knowledge of genetics. The library subscribes to Access Science, a database which you can access from our homepage or from library computers. It has concise articles with links, drawings, illustrations and bibliographies for further study. The Reference Librarians can help you use this database and/or email articles to you from the database about subjects of interest.

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