Dec 18 2014
10:53 pm

The melting pot, known as the US, is more melted together than we thought. But geneticists are finding surprising patterns.

In the United States, almost no one can trace their ancestry back to just one place. And for many, the past may hold some surprises, according to a new study. Researchers have found that a significant percentage of African-Americans, European Americans, and Latinos carry ancestry from outside their self-identified ethnicity. The average African-American genome, for example, is nearly a quarter European, and almost 4% of European Americans carry African ancestry.

I have tested at 23andMe partly to prove kindship to a potential maternal relative I found and partly to know my ancestry, and yes, my "spit test" is used for research. I found that my ancestry composition pretty closely followed the paper trail I had built for my maternal side, and I was able to determine most of my paternal heritage partly from what didn't match my maternal paper trail and mostly because I had a close match to someone (at 26% shared DNA) that was not on my maternal side, but that person hasn't be able to accept that DNA doesn't lie).

But, I digress. One of the things this study found was genetic patterns in the 3 largest ethnic groups were different depending on which state a family lived.

The new study adds an unprecedented level of detail to patterns that had been noticed in previous, more general studies. For example, the 23andMe data reveals that the proportion of different ancestries, even within one self-identified ethnic group, vary significantly by state. Latinos with the highest proportion of African ancestry (about 20%) are from Louisiana, followed by states such as Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. In Tennessee and Kentucky, Latinos tend to have high proportions of European ancestry. And in the Southwest, where states share a border with Mexico, Latinos tend to have higher proportions of Native American ancestry.

A lot of a states history can be found in ones genetic ancestry. But, the bottom line is racial lines are getting blurred, irregardless of ones self described ethnicity. While this is truly a great melting pot, one problem we will see is that doctors will have no choice but to consider the whole person in their genetic glory and not ethnic categories.

Do go check out the full study, it really is fascinating.

nunya's picture


'Irregardless!' Arrrgh......

Bbeanster's picture

Before this thread gets

Before this thread gets hijacked by the grammar police, I'd like to say that I appreciate these distinctions among Latinos. As a semi-Latina (my mom is Puerto Rican), I know first hand that it's silly to lump them (us) all together, genetically or even culturally. Latino/Hispanic is not a race or even an ethnicity. About the only single common trait you can bank on is linguistic commonality.

And, somewhat interestingly, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans don't much care for Cubans, who have long occupied a unique and favored niche in America del Norte.

CE Petro's picture

As I recall

Betty, as I recall when I lived in NY city, Puerto Rican's didn't much care for Mexicans, either. But that was several decades ago.

I think this study, particularly as it expands with more people testing, has the potential to be used for a number of national issues, particularly in immigration and medical issues.

When I dipped my toe into genetics I truly did not expect to be so consumed. There are basics I was taught in high school science, that are really overly simplistic.

Michael's picture


Race is a social construct.
Ethnicity not so much.

Stan G's picture

Ethnicity vs. Race

Stick's picture

Social Construct

Stan G's picture

I Fail to Understand ...

why this was directed at me or what it has to do with the discussion. Genetic genealogy, finding ones roots, has become popular as the cost of genetic testing has come down. The three major companies only report results relating to one's ancestry; although, 23andMe, I understand, continues to test for possible medical issues but are currently not permitted to report them because of a ruling by the FDA.

Stick's picture


It was a contribution to a conversation. Although they hedged their bets, the link you provided gives the appearance that 'race' is a real biological concept. I thought the AAA statement might help clarify things. Race is a social construct.

Holler-Dweller's picture


Bullworth was right.

R. Neal's picture

+1 The movie was kinda bad on


The movie was kinda bad on some levels, but the quote you are probably referring to is classic.

"Everybody just needs to keep f***ing everybody until we're all the same color."

Or something like that.

Bbeanster's picture

Now that I've got all my

Now that I've got all my Christmas stuff packed off to Cali and I can breathe a minute, I'd like to amend my earlier post. Not all latino/hispanics share a common language. Spanish is a second language for many of the the indigenous people of Central America, who have their own languages and cultures.

There was a lot of variety in my mother's family – everything from fair skinned redheads and blonds to folks with distinctly African features. Puerto Rico really is a melting pot.

WhitesCreek's picture

What would you call

What would you call Brazilians?

Bbeanster's picture

I guess Brazilians have never

I guess Brazilians have never migrated to this country in numbers sufficient to have "earned" an ethnic label, so I don't know what the heck they'd be called. Portuguese is so similar to Spanish (even more so than Italian) that there's really not that much difference, linguistically. But although I took South American history in college, I really don't remember much about anything between the conquistadores and Simon Bolivar, and even less about Brazil, sad to say.

It's an interesting question.

Bird_dog's picture


Brazilians didn't mind so much my poor Spanish, but in Lisbon they detested Spanish and took offense at Brazillian Portuguese!!! Bon dia - not Bom jia!

onetahiti's picture

Multiple DNAs?

DNA is apparently more complicated than one person, one set of DNA. "it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes." See: (link...).

-- OneTahiti

CE Petro's picture


There's been a few cases of human chimera's, I believe the most recent (in the news) case was a woman that was originally tested and showed she wasn't her children's mother. DNA tests from a cervical smear showed she carried two sets of DNA.

Stan G's picture

DNA Testing

It’s an interesting article although statistically it is somewhat beyond my comprehension. I’m somewhat surprised to note the two states where the self-reported Latinos have the largest percentage of European ancestry are Tennessee and Kentucky.

Like CE, I have gotten deeper into genetic genealogy than I intended. For those who might be interested, my free advice for what it’s worth is to test with 23andMe first even though it might be slightly more expensive. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Then, if you choose to delve more deeply into your direct parental lines you can test with Family Tree DNA.

I started with Family Tree DNA because I was mainly interested in my maternal grandfather’s ancestry. When I searched on his surname, it appeared several males had been tested. As it turned out, they, like me, had the surname listed as an ancestral surname but were not in the direct male line. I paid extra to have my mother’s ancestry tested which has generated almost 5,000 possible matches making it virtually useless.

CE Petro's picture

Stan, we will need to get

Stan, we will need to get together on the genetic genealogy. I tested at 23andme first, and then did the Family Finder at FTdna (Family Tree). I have yet to do the test at ancestry. The mtDNA is often useless, however the YDNA (for males only) can be quite interesting I hear.

For adoptees that are searching for birth family (and are either from closed adoption states and/or have hit a proverbial brick wall), it's suggested to test at ancestry first, then transfer your raw data to FTdna, then test at 23andme. Also upload your raw data to GEDmatch (free site). Each company has it's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their tools, but ftdna and 23andme both have chromosome browsers that ancestry doesn't.

While everyone has a different experience, I've had the most success finding family members at 23andme. (Their messaging and genome sharing is very cumbersome though.) I've also found their ancestry composition to closely follow my paper-trail at 23andme, whereas FTdna left off my British/Irish connections and doubled the amount of Ashkenazi. However, connections to "matches" will be dependent on the pool of other testers.

Ancestry composition can change, depending on the number of close family members yhat are tested, and 23andme is now working on child phasing (still brushing up on what that means plus how it will/will not change results). The admixture tools over at GEDmatch are fun to play with, but aren't exact (keyword is FUN). If you are predominately European, you'd want to work with the K12 and K15 (both with Oracle) to get your breakdowns.

Mike Knapp's picture

Blurred lines, sharp sight?

Wonkish but... the evolutionary psychology question on race - whether the human mind has an architecture that disposes humans to notice race - is fascinating. For a comparatively long time humans and their precursors most likely didn't encounter people of divergently different colors. So why do we notice it along with sex and age?
Sciency paper

Given the breeding structure inherent in such a world, the typical individual would almost never have encountered people sampled from populations genetically distant enough to qualify as belonging to a different “race” (even assuming that such a term is applicable to a nonpolytypic species such as humans, in which the overwhelming preponderance of genetic variation is within population and not between population, and at most geographically graded rather than sharply bounded) (17, 18). If individuals typically would not have encountered members of other races, then there could have been no selection for cognitive adaptations designed to preferentially encode such a dimension, much less encode it in an automatic and mandatory fashion.
Accordingly, we propose that no part of the human cognitive architecture is designed specifically to encode race. We hypothesize that the (apparently) automatic and mandatory encoding of race is instead a byproduct of adaptations that evolved for an alternative function that was a regular part of the lives of our foraging ancestors: detecting coalitions and alliances.

Rachel's picture

We're all basically mongrels.

We're all basically mongrels. I keep wanting to check that box on various form, but nobody ever gives me the option.

Stan G's picture

Proverbial Apples and Oranges

I don't pretend to be an authority; however, race in the context of this conversation refers to observable physical differences that can be traced to observable genetic mutations. How individuals relate to those differences in another matter.

I did find the statement interesting but, IMO, unrelated to the conversation.

Stick's picture


You could read what "authorities" on the subject have to say?

With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups.

Stan G's picture

Bottom Line

We're all Homo Sapiens.

Stick's picture

Exactly. By treating race as

Exactly. By treating race as though it were a real, meaningful concept we make a small contribution to the continuation of a social construct with real-world effects.

Stan G's picture


This conversation brings back memories of a class we were required to take in college. A general course combining biology, psychology and sociology intended to introduce us to fields outside our chosen major. Seldom did one professor get to finish his lecture before the other two began arguing with him.

cafkia's picture

I am mildly amused by the use

I am mildly amused by the use of "African" to describe ancestry. It is even less specific than "Latino". From the Mediterranean Ocean to the Congo to the most Southern parts there are such variations in skin color and features as to be opposites if that concept had any application. From Pygmies to Masai, Moroccans to Rawandans to Afrikkkans it is a geographically huge and extremely biologically diverse continent. Language, religion, lifestyle, and Gawd only knows what all are as diverse there as can be.

But it sure is easy to pretend that describing something or someone as "African" actually told you something of import. (Just think, Charlize Theron is an "African-American.)

Stan G's picture

In Case You Missed It

cafkia's picture

"Black" is a self-descriptor.

"Black" is a self-descriptor. It was adopted in the '60s as a response to the long time attitude in the community that lighter skin and straighter hair were preferred but that the gradient effect was acknowledged. Lighter was better and darker was worse. When we called ourselves "Blacks" we denied all of that. It was a way of refusing to give others power over us. There was never any actual requirement of genetics or appearance to use the term as there has never been any authority capable of dictating such.

"African-American" is a well-intentioned effort to do the things that "Black" was meant to do as well as honor our history. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, it is so vague and non-specific about anything as to be essentially meaningless.

This is why I have always rejected descriptions of Obama as "half-Black". To me that seems an incredibly stupid thing to say or think. "Black" is a choice, you're Black if you say you are.

Eventually, I might take a look at that link and see what they have to say about it but, as I lived it, I'll probably stick with my understanding.

Stan G's picture

In Brief,

Her focus is on how one is perceived when identified as either African-American vs. Black.

I've known your thoughts for several years now; but, even though you find Black acceptable, I still have a problem referring to a person as black. It may go back to the day our sixth grade teacher shocked us out of our seats with a book slammed against the desk. She had overheard someone refer to another as colored and let us know in no uncertain terms why we were never to do so.

Mike Knapp's picture

Homo sapiens of different skin colors are not different races

Or Homo sapiens of different earlobe attachments, tongue twirling capabilities, presence/absence of widow's peaks or ___________ phenotypes aren't different races either.
Beyond simple tolerance it'll take peoples' deeper understanding of evolutionary biology to begin ridding ourselves of racism. Nina Jablonski does a great job in her enthralling-for-the-genre book, Skin: A Natural History moving us in that direction. I had some high school students in a human evolution unit engaged by this brief segment below. Her paper the Evolution of Human Skin and Skin Color is here.

Stan G's picture

Interesting Video

I cringe to think a student can graduate from high school without understanding that we have all evolved from common African ancestors.
One of the few times I have held my tongue was when a distant cousin, a retired Indiana schoolteacher, suggested we meet in Cincinnati so we could visit the Creation Museum. In her opinion, it is wonderful and everyone should visit it.

CE Petro's picture

One of the reasons

One of the reasons I found this article so interesting, is that I have been working with a distant cousin to find where we fit. One the testing sites, we are projected to be 5th to distant cousins, and at this point, our most recent common ancestor (MRCA) would be around my 5th or 6th great grandfather. Apparently, GGGGGG granddad help to add to that European mixture.

Without giving all our personal information, I show to be 97-99% European. This distant cousin is about 65% African (west African) 30% European and a smattering of American Indian. (Cafkia, the mtdna shows the exact areas in Africa this cousin descended from, but I choose to keep most of that information private in this discussion)

Because of the way this distant cousin appears, one would say we could not be related, and I'm sure when filling out forms they would check the little box for "African-American" and the dna for this cousin tells a far different story.

One of the things we find, is that when the US was settled by/invaded by Europeans, diluting the DNA of inhabitants is an aggressive act of dominance. (Now I'm late, will try to finish my thoughts later)

Mike Knapp's picture

No question

This stuff is fascinating. Really appreciate your posting it C.E.. Speaking of domination, the science right now seems to point to a potentially similar finding wrt Homo sapiens' interaction with Neanderthals in Europe. The thinking about the disappearance of the Neanderthals was once bound to the notion that H.sapiens simply out-competed H.neanderthalis. But now, ever since the great, precise and time-consuming genetic work by S. Pääbo at the Max Planck Inst. for Evolutionary Anthropology, Dept. Evolutionary Genetics, it looks like that earlier picture is morphing into one which suggests that H.neanderthalis was simply hybridized into extinction aka the "assimilation model". The last link is a neat and short talk by Richard Green of UC Santa Cruz on the topic.

CE Petro's picture

Neanderthal DNA

Mike, I'll probably read those when I'm sitting at the hospital awaiting a grandchild tonight, and comment after I read them.

But, because you mentioned Neanderthals, I thought I'd mention that we all have some amount of Neanderthal DNA. Which would lend itself to the support the hybridization theory, don't you think?

Mike Knapp's picture


The presence of H.neanderthalis DNA in the human genome could indicate other things but it is a good piece of evidence that they were hybridized out of existence. Perhaps you had time to read some.
Congrats on the grandbaby! Hope everyone is well.

Mike Knapp's picture

See John Hawks

Stan G's picture


Stan G's picture


Given that we at one time shared common ancestors, I took issue with Micheal and Stick because they appear to ignore your referenced article and the advances made in DNA analysis during the past fifteen years. For $99.00 and a vial of saliva your race and/or racial mixture can be identified. For a few hundred, they can determine your ancestors migration routes.

I've only tested with FamilyTreeDNA and question the results. The percentages of Scandinavian and Southern European ancestry it reports is much higher than my paper trail would indicate. I plan to test with 23andMe next month. I'm not particularly interested in finding cousins;
but, I do respond if someone thinks there might be a connection.

Stick's picture

Except it doesn't tell you

Except it doesn't tell you jack about your "race". It tells you the broad geographic areas where your ancestors came from... Now do you see the difference? Or, are you just being obtuse?

More here

Stan G's picture

Which is Why I Question My Family Finder Results

I have no known Scandinavian or Southern European ancestors. FamilyTreeDNA, however, indicates I have approximately 10% of each within the last five or so generations.

Thanks to others, I have rather extensive paper trails.

Stan G's picture

From the Summary

This study sheds light on the fine-scale differences in ancestry within and across the United States and informs our understanding of the relationship between racial and ethnic identities and genetic ancestry.

What leads you to believe the study included place of origin?

Stick's picture

Key word: identities. If you

Key word: identities. If you follow the link I provided you it details how 23andme works and how it can be problematic. As metulji notes above, the concept has staying power in our language (even among those who should know better, including a lot of psychologists) but no biological basis. That is all that I'm trying to point out.

CE Petro's picture

Ancestry Compositions

Stan, none of the ancestry compositions are 100% accurate, but they are fun to play with. What I have learned is that the predictions at each company are based on comparing your genome with the other testers at that company. It is also my understanding that when you test close relatives your ancestry composition would/could change with the new information.

Taking that into consideration, at 23andme I had also tested a fairly close relative (my maternal grandmother is this person's mother) so my ancestry composition would be more accurate. Because I tested after 23andme changed their chip, I wasn't able to transfer that data to FTdna.

Stan G's picture


Congratulations on the anticipated arrival on your holiday blessing.

I do expect 23andme to generate a different ancestral history since their autosomal database, I understand, is approximately 4X the size of the FTDNA database and it generates a more detailed report. That's why I suggested earlier that those with an interest test with 23andme first.

I'm testing out of curiosity rather than genealogy. Not particularly looking for new cousins. Glad to get rid of one who sent daily ultra-conservative emails, although I was not happy to hear of his failing health since he maintained a family webpage long out of date.

Don't particularly like to use KV for personal exchanges. Will connect after your life settles down. Would like to know more about your finding particularly if you have New York roots.

Mike Knapp's picture

Perhaps a suggested wrap to this thread

could be the great work done at PBS in their series "Becoming Human" and an excellent PBS piece on Neanderthals, note the discussion with John Hawks in the last 15 minutes; all links at youtube in HD. each right at ~52min.

Becoming Human Pt 1

Becoming Human Pt 2

Becoming Human Pt 3

Decoding Neanderthals

SouthHeaven's picture

Interesting discussion, interesting personal experience

A few years ago I was found to be the best 'match' for a stem cell transplant for a man with leukemia. This was a pretty big deal (on many levels). He and I had to match on at least 7 (10 is best) of our HLA (human leukocyte antigens) to give him the best chance for survival. I don't know exactly how many we matched on but I understand that we are a better DNA genetic match than I am with either my mother or father or even my child. Maybe even a better match than my siblings. I was a better match than any of his immediate family too, apparently, since he was looking on the NMDP registry for a donor.

As an aside, after my stem cells were transplanted into him, if everything worked the way it was supposed to, my cells engrafted within about 30 days. This means they started growing new, healthy stem cells in his bone marrow. He had already had his immune system destroyed with chemo about the same time (3-5 days before the transplant) that I began taking medication to make my bones create copious amounts of stem cells, so my cells were literally a 're-boot' of his immune system. After the transplant his blood type changed to mine and he was now a chimera: one set of DNA for his blood (mine) and his own DNA.

This was/is still pretty mind-blowing for me, but what's even more interesting is that he was an "international" donation. Unfortunately, for my curiousity's sake I don't have any way of even knowing what country he's from, much less how he fared from the transplant. The international rules allow the recipient's treatment center to set the terms of whether any info or contact can ever be established and his allows no info ever. In the US recipient and donor can agree (must be mutual) to have info/contact info shared after one year. Other countries say three years, five years. His center said nothing exchanged, ever. I was disappointed to be sure, but I'm so incredibly grateful to have been allowed such an awesome life experience as this.

Anyway, I'm writing all this not to self-congratulate. I wanted to join the discussion to share my personal experience with the mystery of genetics and DNA. Incidently, I do have an insatiable curiousity and, after a little googling, I found just a very few treatment centers that allow no contact ever between donor and recipient. I believe that it must be in England (I have no reason to believe there was any ancestral connection to the other countries) and my maternal grandfather was from England. Maybe some distant cousin? It's all been so very cool to think about.

Pam Strickland's picture

About 13 years ago my

About 13 years ago my friends' 7-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. They eventually found a match for him with a scientist who was doing stem cell research with cord cells in Belguim. This was when Bush had mad stem cell research illegal in the United States. Needless to say my friends became advocates for stem cell research. Now in Arkansas there is a cord bank and doctors are required to discuss it with pregnant women.

And that young boy has grown up to be a brilliant college student who is interested in going to law school.

Up Goose Creek's picture


Was your dad stationed abroad during military service?

Mike Knapp's picture

Latest on sapiens neanderthal inbreeding

Ewen Callaway Nature News 13 May 2015
Early European may have had Neanderthal great-great-grandparent

The data from the jawbone imply that breeding did happen in Europe, and not just the Middle East, says María Ávila, an ancient-genomics researcher at Stanford University in California who attended Fu’s talk. “It also makes sense — why would it be limited to one specific region?” Ávila hopes that researchers may be able to determine how the Neanderthal portions of the Oase man's genome compare to the genomes of Neanderthals and to Neanderthal sequences found in humans today. But the extracted DNA was highly degraded, which might hinder such efforts. “I just don’t know how much data they have to do all these cool analyses. Hopefully a lot,” Avila adds.

Trinkaus points out that the jaw represents the ancestry of one man, not an entire population. It is not clear how often early humans and Neanderthals interbred in Europe. DNA from other human fossils that predate the extinction of Neanderthals some 35,000 years ago could build a fuller picture of the continent’s history.

Mike Knapp's picture

Outstanding PBS series on First Peoples Tonight

2nd of 3 part series airs tonight at 9pm on PBS. First one was absolutely superb.
First Peoples

About the Program

200,000 years ago we took our first steps on the African savanna. Today there are 7 billion of us living across planet Earth.

How did our ancestors beat the odds and spread from continent to continent? What was the secret to their success?

This is a global detective story, featuring new fossil finds and the latest genetic research. It’s a story that revolves around a shocking revelation. In prehistoric times, we met and mated with other types of human – like Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo erectus. This mixing of genes helped us survive - and ultimately thrive.

Scientists are beginning to realize that ours is not a pedigree species, but a patchwork. We are all hybrids.

First Peoples will air on Wednesdays, 9/8c, beginning June 24 on PBS.

CE2's picture


(This is CE -- not on my 'puter, so posting anonymously)
I was reading about the Denisovans just the other day. Pretty fascinating. I'll try to pull that article up and share the link.

I know how much (approximate) Neanderthal dna I have in my genome, I think it would also be interesting to see just how much of my genome is Denisovan. I believe there was discussion of that article on the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogists) facebook page.

CE Petro's picture

Denisovans Article

So, it turns out the article I was reading on the Denisovans was originally published in Live Science in December of 2013. So info is not as new as I thought. But, it's still interesting.

Although modern humans are the only surviving human lineage, others once strode the Earth. These included Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, and the relatively newfound Denisovans, who are thought to have lived in a vast expanse from Siberia to Southeast Asia. Research shows that the Denisovans shared a common origin with Neanderthals but were genetically distinct, with both apparently descending from a common ancestral group that had diverged earlier from the forerunners of modern humans.
...The researchers reconstructed a nearly complete genome of this fossil's mitochondria — the powerhouses of the cell, which possess their own DNA and get passed down from the mother.

If you have your raw atdna data uploaded to Gedmatch, they do have a tool to check against "archaic dna", so I checked my kit once again. I do share a few very small segments with "Denisova, Siberia," but this one is a different subject.
large_CE ARchaic DNA.png

Stick's picture

Thanks for the heads up! Good

Thanks for the heads up! Good stuff... and timely.

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