A science journalist searches deep for roots and finds them in the deepest helixes of her genetic code.
“The fact is that my forebears—in the direct maternal line—were among the anatomically modern, musical and artistic humans who first colonized Europe.” That claim is laden with import. Swedish science journalist and editor Bojs has been following advances in DNA research for decades, work that, she writes, has led to interviewing some 70 scientists and visiting 10 countries. As she recounts in this well-written work of popular science, those travels have involved not just Bojs as an entity, but also her genetic inheritance: amino acids that led to the now-submerged Dogger Bank, off the coast of England; the far-flung Arctic tribes marked by the haplogroup U4; and to scattered places in the Balkans and Greece, “along the routes taken by Europe’s first farmers on their way northwards toward Central Europe.” Such researches lead to big-picture questions that mirror work that has been done in the prehistory of North America: for instance, as Bojs writes, were immigrants responsible for the spread of farming into what is now Scandinavia, “or was the technology itself simply adapted by local hunting populations?” As she acknowledges, although genetic studies yield insight into such matters as the role of disease in early human populations, they are also fraught with possibilities for a racialized view of the human past, whence the whole business of Aryan purity and the interest of some totalitarian regimes in establishing the primacy of favored genotypes and phenotypes. Though she begins with that proud claim of descent from modern humans, Bojs closes with darker discoveries of mental illness in her lineage. Though she reckons herself fairly lucky in the genetic lottery, she argues that genes are not “selfish,” in Richard Dawkins’ sense, but two-faced: “what is good or bad depends on the combination and the context.”
A book to consult before swabbing, full of insight into the uses and abuses of genetics.