DNA Can Link Americans to Africa Kin
A team of geneticists at Howard University plans to offer a DNA test this summer that could link black Americans with their roots in Africa.
Geneticist Rick Kittles said today that he is still preparing the database for the comparisons, but expected the program to get under way in a few months.
There has been wide interest in this means of tracing people back to their homelands, he said, commenting that he has done DNA tests on "several hundred" people in preparing for the program.
Historical records are pretty consistent in showing the early slaves came from west central Africa, he said, locations of the current countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Angola. In Boston, Richard Newman of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African-American Research, said: "It doesn't mean anything to know that some of my people came from Africa, but if I can pinpoint a culture, a religion and language, then it can strengthen my sense of identity and relationship with Africa."
The Howard University group would use a blood test that matches DNA sequences to samples taken from native African populations. The test could cost up to $300.
Kittles, the 34-year-old geneticist at Howard who initiated the study, said the slave trade erased family histories, and, before the discovery of DNA, nobody imagined that the stories could be rewritten.
"To a lot of blacks, knowing a little bit of the story is important," Kittles told The Boston Globe. "This will definitely contribute a lot to understanding the history of African-Americans.''
Kittles said Howard University will be able to do two versions of the DNA test. The first looks at mitochondrial DNA, which is handed down, unchanged, from mother to child. The other uses the male, or Y chromosome, which is passed on from father to son.
Researchers then can compare test subjects with a database of more than 2,000 samples assembled from about 40 populations across western Africa, where the trans-Atlantic slave trade originated.
Kittles said his team is collecting additional DNA samples so they can expand the database and identify more African populations. The researchers also have collected a separate database with American Indian, Asian and European DNA to cross-reference genes that cannot be traced to Africa.
The geneticists said DNA tests in the study so far show that about 30 percent of the black men tested descended from Europeans on the fathers' side. The researchers said that was largely the legacy of enslaved women who were raped.
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