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Initial Thoughts on My Neanderthal DNA
Although 3.1% Neanderthal DNA doesn't sound like a lot, it is apparently more than most people posses--in fact, it is more than 98% of people who have been tested. Yep, I am in the 98th percentile for Neanderthal DNA.
I had genetic testing done for medical reasons, which also provided fascinating, detailed ancestry information that largely matched what I thought I knew about my heritage. But with multiple interesting surprises.
One, of course was this Neanderthal piece. It's not an initially flattering thought.
I also wasn't aware that enough sequencing of ancient 'genetic material' had been accomplished to even make such a comparison. I may not have said any of that correctly, but again, the science/research/actual knowledge aspect of this is purposely going to wait until after some un-educated, for-fun reflections.
I found a discussion on an author's website (John Durant, Paleo Manifesto) while trying to adjust to this new knowledge. My wandering, overlapping thoughts as I skimmed his post included at least the following, mostly facetious, ponderings:
- What does this mean?
- How do I break this to my kids?
- What can I find to smooth my ego?
- Science will help this be a good thing, right?
- Does this explain some of my health issues?
- Did this influence my body's response to Lyme disease?
Later, I'm sure I'll look into any of the above that become actual questions. I'll find research and speculation and health, genetic, and scientific information and have some fun deciding what this really means.
But, you can't unlearn what you discover, which might erase the fun of speculating blindly. So I'm holding off on that, risking putting into writing a lot of uneducated foolishness (that may be counter to what has been discovered or discerned by scientists so far).
This is quite on purpose, because although knowledge might make this genetic information useful, interesting, or even more flattering, it will also reduce my ability to enjoy the silliness of it for a moment.
Which would you feel if you were in the 98th percentile for Neanderthal DNA?
As noted earlier, I stumbled onto a blog post on this topic, by an author who had recently learned of his own Neanderthal heritage. For the author in question, who studied evolutionary psychology at Harvard, and who's full book title happens to be The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health, his results (2.8% and in the 80th percentile) were happy news.
His perspective is pretty amusing and understandable:
"Can you imagine how devastating it would have been to learn that I didn’t have much Neanderthal in me? In my line of work?"
The first comment was clearly the reason that this page had topped my search results, as the author of that comment's results were also 98th percentile and 3.1%. All of the genetically 'high ranking' Neanderthals were very happy about it, based on the tone of the comments and the abundance of exclamation points and smiley faces.
From what I can tell, though, all were male (with "k" being a wild card and also being disappointed to be "sub-par" in their percentage). I'm not sure how many women would be equally thrilled. Beyond ego, though, I'm sure most people of either gender would have at least a glimmer of amusement, excitement, pride, or at least hope of the justification of pride in this fact.
The thread did make me start to feel a bit better, and as I started to leave a comment, an awful lot of amusing things from my childhood and personal history (and present life) that are more than a little amusing, and getting funnier the more I think about it.
Potential Personality or Lifestyle Influences?
As I started to type a comment on the blog, thinking a bit about my tom-boy background, ideas started to swirl around this question from the comments:
"i am going to make an off the cuff comment without doing any research. is it possible your results were due to gene expression? if you were living like most americans would have have only .1% neanderthal in you?" (sic)
So thanks, "Chuck" for your off the cuff thinking, as it led me to think about all the things I've done that could have made my genes "express" this way. Which really is ;the chicken or the egg', until I learn more about this about this, but it increased the length of my list of silly things I could dub as Neanderthal-ism.
Made For This....
Mountains, Rivers, and Caves
You could say these things (mountains, rives, and caves) sum up Montana pretty well (which is where we've chosen to live). It also sums up what I've thought of as my kind of 'habitat'.
These are certain landscape features I need around me to be fully satisfied. I enjoy oceans and tropical places considerably, but criteria for a good place to live, and places where I have been happiest, possess these features.
Mountains and Rivers
I've worked and played in mountains, rivers, and streams my entire life. Fishing as a kid, backpacking constantly as a young adult, and following animal species that reside in these locations all certainly inspired the jobs and locations I've chosen for myself as an adult (particularly Wildland Firefighting and Wildlife Biology). My windows, for example, face the mountains and rivers still bring me enormous peace.
I love caves and joined my local Grotto this past Spring. I joined to get close to bats (beyond my work as a Biologist), but realized what I've been missing out on--and now I can't get enough of it. Many of the things I've done and learned over the years have been gearing me up for this (literally and figuratively) and I can't wait to do more.
I thought I was at least a little bit claustrophobic, but shimmying down my first narrow passageway last spring, I happily found that this was not the case. Even getting in a bit over my head, wedged between sidewalls to support my own weight in order to access a tunnel, was completely Invigorating and addictive.
I can't help but find this insatiable draw to caving more than a bit amusing in light of this Neanderthal issue. How many cavers, I wonder, are in my percentile?
Affinity For Bats
I’ve been fascinated by bats since childhood, and held my first bat at age 12 (not recommended, but it was a very memorable and transformative experience).
I’d always been excited about them, and finally began receiving rabies vaccinations and bat trainings the past several years while working as a Wildlife Biologist.
We have traveled as a family to watch bats emerge by the thousands in Texas from tunnels and bridges.
Caving and bats go hand and hand, and I find that cavers are far more accommodating of my fixation and share a far greater mutual affinity and interest in them than most humans.
There, again, I wonder how many of share this elite percentile?
Hunting and Gathering
For starters, I'm a Wildlife Biologist by training and trade. I follow, track, observe, capture, and study animals professionally. Scat, tracks, and sign are everywhere, so that part of my brain really never turns off.
As a kid, I brought containers along on all of our trips just in case a small critter of any kind was around and catch-able, from tadpoles to snakes.
Perhaps this finally sheds some light on why I've had an uncanny number of birds land on me in my lifetime in both urban and remote settings (enough to defy chance statistical probabilities).
My family is very good at finding and catching fish, especially in small streams, and even when non-related people have significantly less success.
Rocks and Things
My kids and I tend to collect and climb on rocks. All kids do, but we do it a lot. For hours and hours. We end up with a lot of rocks and pictures of rocks. It just strikes me as humorous in this context.
My kids are good at helping collect critters when they can work with me, and tend to spend lots of time finding things. My daughter in particular could spend hours on end finding shells, feathers, sticks, and 'things' to gather.
Fire, Survival, Childbirth, and Grit
In my early twenties, not only was I one of few women on national elite wildland firefighting crews at the time, but I still remember getting very absorbed in setting fires when we back-burned....few tools are as mesmerizing as a drip torch.
I was an EMT and volunteered with Search and Rescue. I love maps and navigate pretty well outdoors with or without them (far less so in malls or cities that lack any view of natural landmarks). These things overlapped with work as a firefighter and through to the present as a Biologist.
I've given birth twice. Both were water births without pain medication of any kind.
In additions to fighting fire, the rest of the above, and proving my toughness from an early age, I often fought boys at recess, despite being quiet and well behaved in the classroom. It was what my advisor described as "grit" that I believe got me into graduate school.
Nomadic Migrations and (Genetic?) Connection to Place
I moved constantly in my late teens and early twenties, as many people do, but a bit more than average (19 or zip codes before meeting my husband in Alaska). My husband and I continued to "migrate" up through the birth of our second child.
When we did settle down, it was in an area I'd been aiming toward for a very long time. I remembered my grandmother talking about Glacier National Park, where she'd lived as a child. I was told by multiple backpacking buddies that Glacier had "your kind of mountains". I didn't know how they knew that, as I hadn't seen Glacier yet or talked about it to them, but they were spot on.
By the time I began my graduate school research in this target area of ours (the Flathead Valley in northwest Montana, next to Glacier National Park), my grandmother had not mentioned to any of us that they lived in the Hungry Horse/Spotted Bear area, below what is now the Hungry Horse Reservoir.
I had unknowingly chosen study sites adjacent to the now under water roads and bridges my great grandfather and great uncles constructed, and the cabin they lived in, beside streams they fished.
Was this area passed down to me as genetic information? Is this some kind of inherited imprinting? Do my kind of mountains have less to do with my own personal likes and more to do with genetic disposition?
I'm mostly kidding, but I'm also amused and quite intrigued.
I don't find myself too terribly at odds with what it seems like Neanderthal genes might mean, based on rough impressions.
If I focus a little more on some of the negative connotations than I did above, things like ADHD and adrenal issues (people who are apt to spend a lot of time in 'fight or flight' mode) come to mind. Following the diagnoses of my kids, I was diagnosed with ADHD as well. This includes a fair amount of impulsiveness and is often described in terms of how people evolved.
So the negative is not really all that negative at the moment either. My head's not particularly big or misshapen, though my face is a little flat, I suppose. My kids score off the charts in standardized tests (the graph style scoring/results sheets literally don't extend far enough to display their results for some subjects for both kids), read ridiculously complex novels, correct people's grammar and misstatements about physical or historical facts, and talk like little professors. So I'm not concerned about intelligence.
Although I'd like to think of these things as unique personality traits, if there are compelling arguments for inherited tendencies that are not necessarily innate in most of the humans I'm surrounded by, it would the ability to find, track, catch, and gather all manner of living things and really commendable geographic taste. All of which have led me to a pretty good life.
And worthy of its own note, along the same lines, but to an even greater extent, there's my ever growing affinity for bats and caves. If am genetically drawn to both of those things, then perhaps I am also genetically tailored for pursuing them.
And all of these things make me chuckle and smile.