Do you ever wonder if you might be related to the people you are passing on the street? Due to common descent, we are all related. Bryan Sykes is a medical geneticist that investigates the interrelatedness of humans by examining their mitochondrial DNA, and shares the results with you in this book.
First, a little bit of science to help start you off. We all know we have DNA. Most of our DNA is contained within the nucleus of our cells. However, we also have DNA found in our mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of your cells that produce energy. We inherit our mitochondrial DNA maternally, that is, from our mothers. So you have your mother’s mitochondrial DNA, which your mother inherited from her mother, which your grandmother inherited from her mother, and so on. By studying mutations in our mitochondrial DNA, we can determine how people are related via their female relatives.
The book starts off with several stories that Bryan Sykes tells about his research. He is one of the scientists that was called in to investigate the 5000 year old Ice Man. He also studied human remains found in Russia and helped to determine that they were most likely members of the Romanov royal family. Additionally, he studied the inhabitants of several Pacific islands to discover their Asian origins. There are also several interesting facts he presents, such has whether or not we can we find traces of Neanderthal DNA in our DNA, and if hunter-gatherers rapidly replaced farmers as Cro-Magnon humans spread across Europe.
The last 1/4 of the book focuses on the fact that there are seven major genetic clusters of Europeans. In each of these clusters, the mitochondrial DNA sequences are either identical are very similar to one another. That means that at the base of each cluster, there was just one female who had children that in turn helped give rise to much of the population in Europe, hence the name of the book, The Seven Daughters of Eve. Sykes then goes on to describe what life might have been like for each of these early women, who he names Xenia, Jasmine, Velda, Ursula, Tara, Helana, and Katrine.
Since I study genetics, I found this book interesting. However, I think anyone would find it interesting. Sykes tells interesting stories about several of the things that he has studied, and then helps you understand how you are related to the rest of mankind as a descendent of a small subset of women. I think that if you are interested in understanding the evolutionary history of the human species, this would be a good read.