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Rediscover your family history using Mitochondrial DNA

Digging through family records and talking to grandpa are good sources for starting a family tree. But go a little further back — say 100,000 years — and you'll find everything you want to know is already inside of you.

Well, it’s in your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), to be more precise, and researchers at Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA laboratory in Thunder Bay, Ont., can use it to trace lineage way, way back.

“We deal with deep ancestry here,” explained Stephen Fratpietro, the lab’s technical manager.

“Basically your mitochondrial DNA can date back anywhere from 10,000 years ago to 120,000 years ago ... so you can find out things like if you came right from Africa or somewhere in Europe.

“We’re talking about hundreds of generations.”

Because mtDNA is only passed down on the mother’s side, Fratpietro explained it is perfect for DNA detectives like him to use for research.

By analyzing the mutations in mtDNA taken from a simple swab of the inside of the cheek, researchers can determine exactly how new or how old your genetics are, where in the world they come from and who you’re related too.

“People often want to know where their genetics came from,” said Fratpietro.

“If you’re trying to figure out if you’re related to a long lost relative, like a fifth cousin twice removed or something, you can try to establish a common maternal lineage through genealogy using DNA, and confirm whether you’re actually related or not.”

visit ancientdna.com for more information about Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA laboratory and its ancestry testing.

Who can benefit from mtDNA? The answer may surprise you.

• It’s not just living people who can have mtDNA testing done. The Paleo-DNA laboratory at Lakehead University is often tasked with testing degraded archeological material dug up at ancient burial sites around the world.

• Stephen Fratpietro, the lab’s technical manager, said because mtDNA is the most plentiful type of DNA, it is usually all that’s left to answer many of the questions archeologists have about their discoveries.

• “The mitochondrial DNA can tell us whether the two individuals found in the same burial are related maternally or not … and we kind of tell roughly where these people originated from in the world,” he explained.

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