Business

Sunday 24 September 2017

Find out who you think you are with pinprick DNA test

Everyone’s Got Roots: US senator John McCain at Dr Tyrone Bowes’ geanology seminar
Everyone’s Got Roots: US senator John McCain at Dr Tyrone Bowes’ geanology seminar

Tom Prendeville

Fans of CSI Miami will be familiar with DNA testing and all the endless forensic possibilities that it holds. However, apart from specialised medical and crime uses the technology has never had a mainstream mass market appeal.

Scientist and biotechnologist Dr Tyrone Bowes is hoping to change all that.

Like many people he was curious about his ancestry, and naturally assumed, because of his surname, that his family were English settlers who had arrived in Ireland centuries earlier.

Rather than go down the tortuous time-consuming genealogy route of tracing dusty baptismal and parish records he decided to do a pinprick DNA test on himself that could trace back 1,000 years to when certain DNA markers mutated, and the precise location the DNA was native to. To his amazement his ancestors turned out to be Gaelic Irish from a townland in Co Laois.

There and then he had a brainwave and decided to offer a cheap affordable DNA Ancestry Heritage Tracing service for the estimated 80 million-strong Irish diaspora keen to know their roots.

In the past. tracing your ancestors used to be the preserve of retired Yanks with time on their hands.

Now however, thanks to worldwide interest created by ancestry tracing TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and clan gatherings, it has become a mainstream business proposition.

Dr Bowes explains how the business originated: "Growing up in Ballymun, Dublin, I was deeply curious to know the origin of my surname. By combining my interest in biology, history, and geography, I have been able to piece together the clues to my ancestral origins using only DNA test results."

"I had my Y-DNA tested which revealed that my ancestors were native Irish who had their own distinct clan, and lived in a very specific area."

"My ancestors were related to other clans that lived close by, and they left their mark on the placenames where they lived for hundreds if not thousands of years. What's even more surprising is that my distant relatives still live in that area today."

When surnames came into being over 1,000 years ago, medieval trendsetters adopted monikers such as Suil Amhain – Sullivan – Irish for one-eyed.

However, despite the new surnames they were usually closely related to everyone else in the area who perhaps adopted different names such as Moriarty.

By accessing commercial US DNA databases – which contain over 100,000 Irish American DNA samples – Dr Bowes is able to get a match with all the surnames you are related to.

To make the process even more accurate, Dr Bowes developed database tools for cross-referencing castles, placenames and the surnames of farmers.

Farmers were important, because many rural farm homesteads have been in the same family for centuries.

Since many surnames are still associated with certain parts of Ireland it is possible to identify a genetic homeland, a small area, usually within a five-mile radius, even if your own surname no longer exists or was anglicised beyond recognition.

"Irish surnames can still be found concentrated in the county from which they originate, so you can examine the individual surname distribution maps on our website and pinpoint a genetic homeland," he said.

"Since modern science can pinpoint a genetic homeland it can also be used to confirm it by DNA testing individuals from the pinpointed area," added Dr Bowes.

In 2012 Dr Bowes set up Irish Origenes, which has taken off like a rocket. He is now broadening his horizons and offering a similar service to the enormous English and Scottish diaspora: English Origenes and Scottish Origenes.

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