Friday, March 6, 2009


For the sake of consistency in calculating the estimates of our risk for this or that disease, one of the things we need to define at the 23andme website is our “ethnicity” – which simply means, actually, that we have to specify the geographical origins of those of our ancestors whom we know of. But when I tried to do this for the first time, I didn’t find what I considered to be my appropriate ethnicity, namely Eastern Europe.

My grand-parents all came from the Ukraine, near Odessa, which is clearly Eastern Europe, but I only had the choice between checking a box for Northern Europe or one for Southern Europe. Where was Eastern Europe? Did I have to choose between those two? The closest choice, I seemed to me, was Southern Europe, but that didn’t seem specific enough – not the least because the stories of the Iberian Jews (Sephardic) and the Jews from Central and Eastern Europe (Ashkenazi) are pretty different. The short reply to yet another email to 23andme was: “You can use Southern Europe as the option”. OK; so that’s what I did.

I must say that I was pleased to learn afterwards that my genes also confirmed my own, unlisted, first choice. Using a functionality called “global similarity – advanced view”, I was able to see that the group I was closest to in terms of genetic similarity were the “Ukrainians” – and that they were placed, adequately, between Southern… and Eastern Europe (I’m the larger green plot on the maps below).

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