DNA – What Am I Made Of?

About a month ago, I ordered a saliva test kit from 23andMe. My primary purpose was to learn more about my ancestry. I know that all of my known ancestors going back 4 or 5 generations are of Greek descent, but I also know it’s impossible that I’m 100% Greek. Nobody in the world is 100% anything. I was also very curious to find out why I’m always mistaken for being Lebanese, Turkish, or Italian.

Well, this weekend I finally received my results. I was shocked, to say the least. This is a speculative estimate (50% confidence) of who my ancestors were about 500 years ago:

60.8% Italian
15.6% Middle Eastern
13.4% Balkan
8.6% Nonspecific Southern European
0.9% Unassigned
0.5% Nonspecific European
0.2% Ashkenazi Jewish
0.1% Sub-Saharan African

My DNA analysis from 23andMe

My DNA analysis

15.6% Middle Eastern compared to 13.4% Balkan (where they group Greek) is quite a shock. The biggest shock is that 60.8% of my DNA is probably Italian! The small shocks are 0.2% Ashkenazi Jewish and 0.1% Sub-Saharan African.

8.6% is nonspecific Southern European, which means this portion of my DNA falls into so many ethnic groups, they can’t really identify a specific group at this time. This could be Greek, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian – who knows?

When I think about the Italian, it starts to make sense because Chios, the Greek island where my mother’s family is from, was under Genoese rule for over 300 years, spent a short time under Venetian rule, and was also part of the Roman Empire. The Middle Eastern also makes sense because of my Greek roots from Anatolia.

Again, this is a speculative estimate. As more people submit DNA samples and the technology improves, these numbers will change and be grouped more specifically, so it is not 100% accurate right now, nor will it ever be. They also gave a standard estimate (70% confidence) and a very conservative estimate (90% confidence) that greatly lowers each percentage and has much more unassigned DNA.

If we explore those two estimates, you can see how drastic the differences are:

44.7% Italian
29.9% Nonspecific Southern European
8.7% Unassigned
8.1% Middle Eastern
5.0% Nonspecific European
3.1% Balkan
0.4% Nonspecific Middle Eastern and North African
0.1% Ashkenazi Jewish
0.1% Sub-Saharan African

30.6% Nonspecific Southern European
26.5% Unassigned
20.3% Nonspecific European
17.3% Italian
5.3% Middle Eastern
~0.1% Nonspecific Middle Eastern and North African


If we look only at simple regional compositions, there is also another dramatic change between estimates:

83.4% European (82.8% Southern European)
15.6% Middle Eastern and North African
0.1% Sub-Saharan African
0.9% Unassigned

82.7% European (77.6% Southern European)
8.5% Middle Eastern and North African
0.1% Sub-Saharan African
8.7% Unassigned

68.1% European (47.8% Southern European)
5.4% Middle Eastern and North African
26.5% Unassigned


It looks as if the scientists are pretty confident that the unassigned portion from the conservative estimate shows up as European (specifically Southern European) in the standard estimate. It also looks like a good percentage of the unassigned portion in the standard estimate is Middle Eastern when you look at the speculative estimate. If I can get my parents to take the test, it will alter the results a bit and make them more accurate.

An important discovery from this test is the haplogroup I inherited from each of my parents. My paternal ancestry comes from haplogroup E1b1b1c1a. This line originated in the Near East nearly 15,000 years ago, and spread into North Africa and Europe. This line is common in Ethiopians, Jordanians, and Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

My maternal ancestry comes from haplogroup H9a. It originated in the Near East around 40,000 years ago and spread into Europe, North Africa and Central Asia. It is very common among Basques and Scandinavians. Some famous people who share this line, thus making me extremely distant relatives through a common ancestor, are St. Luke, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Prince Philip, and Susan Sarandon.

Another interesting find is that this test detected 2.6% Neanderthal DNA. This is actually lower than the average European, who usually tests at 2.7%. If it was higher, it would’ve explained a lot!

Neanderthal DNA from 23andMe

Neanderthal DNA

The information received is great but it’s only a start. I’ll be running computer-generates analyses on GEDmatch.com and sending off my raw data to Dr. Doug McDonald for more specific clues about my ancestry.

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