Know yourself. It’s all in the genes. (May 2011 issue)

Red Bull Air Race World Champion Kirby Chambliss
Date:18 April 2011 Tags:, , , ,

If you have never tuned in to that fascinating BBC television series, “Who do you think you are?”, you’ve been missing a treat. It follows all manner of celebrities as they explore their ancestral history, uncovering amazing (and occasionally sad or disturbing) stories, adding new branches to their family tree and experiencing a feeling of belonging.

This got us thinking. Whereas family networks, parish records, dusty archives and the all-knowing Internet remain essential components of genealogical research, what about the genetic record? What if our readers wanted to go really far back, to a time long before written history? Would they be curious about the migration patterns of the ancients, and the maternal and paternal lines that helped create them?

Short answer: of course they would. All of which explains the thinking behind the launch of an unusual competition. Titled “Know Yourself”, it offers one female and two male PM readers an opportunity to have their DNA analysed by the Texas-based company, Family Tree DNA.

Acknowledged as a world leader in genetic genealogy, with a database ranked as the largest of its kind in the world, Family Tree DNA will conduct the Y-DNA37 and mtDNAPlus tests for the two male winners to identify the deep ancestral origins of both their maternal and paternal lines, using samples provided via simple test kits. Depending on the uniqueness of the sample tested, the results will also point towards a more recent geographic region or country of origin.

The female winner will receive just the mtDNAPlus test, which identifies the deep ancestral origins of the direct maternal line only, without influence from other lines. Once again, depending on the uniqueness of the sample tested, the analysis may determine a more recent geographic region. All winners will have the choice of pooling their data and joining an international network of genealogical researchers. They might even discover long-lost relatives where they least expect them.

What do DNA tests have to do with South Africa’s foremost science and technology title? Hey, it’s what we do – and with your participation, we could go on a very interesting journey. Visit page 74 and submit your entry today.

Our cover story this month, “Extreme how-to”, introduces a bunch of people who eat challenges for breakfast. Take Ezra Dyer, whose self-built Rally Fighter is a go-anywhere mean machine that pumps out more kilowatts than half a dozen sensible family cars. Then there’s US aerobatics champion Kirby Chambliss, who flies three times a day, six days a week, and is quite happy doing it upside down. Larry Cottrill builds small and extremely noisy pulse jets (he reckons he can put one together in 8 hours), and MIT students Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh think it’s cool to launch a helium balloon with onboard camera into the stratosphere. (They’re right; it’s very cool.)

We salute these people and everyone else who believes that logic and common sense are not essential attributes for the successful innovator and adventurer. In fact, one PM staffer is so inspired that he is about to build his own jet boat, using a high-pressure water pump (powered by a petrol engine, and originally designed for fire-fighting) mounted aboard an ageing dinghy. He fully expects to get wet in the process, but hey, you get wet in the shower.

– Alan Duggan (