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Arched toeprint    Genetic inheritance

Which gene is responsible for the inheritance of toe and fingerprints? The Genome study announced in February 2001 that there are only about 30,000 human genes responsible for our inheritance, not 100,000 as was previously predicted. The remaining 70,000 are relics of our evolutionary past, dubbed in U.S. colloquialism, 'junk genes'. The maximum difference in human D.N.A. is only 0.5% [about 15,000 CGTA units] there would be even less between members of a shared family name.

More recently the misnomer 'junk genes' has been blasted apart by the finding that they are in fact not 'junk'. The 70,000 genes not in regular use by the body cells in fact contain 'genetic switches' that can turn specific active genes 'on or off'. These 'epigenetic switches' may hold the key to solving some of the genetic diseases that afflict all living things. If we read the human genome like a book we recognise that there are print errors that equate to gene changes/errors that lead to natural selection by the environment.  

Surnames are far more resilient than genetics
As each generation passes, the number of chromosomes inherited from a particular individual is reduced by half whilst the number of predecessors doubles. As a consequence, the number of genes is also halved from any specific parent. The reduction occurs like this:

No. of genes
No. of predecessors
F 1

Thus for any specific predecessor, after 10 generations [or about 250 years] approximately 29 genes remain from that particular person [obviously the remainder of the chromosomes are composed of genes from the multitudes of other predecessors]. Thus although we may see that we are descended from a particular person, most of the genetic change or loss has occured in the first few generations so that by the 15th generation [~ 400 years] there is actually very little genetic material remaining [< 3.33 x 10-4 %] from the specific predecessor. At the same time we are seen by positive exponential growth to be descended from almost a quarter of a million predecessors. Certainly, an inherited surname possesses a much longer 'shelf- life' than the genetic material from a single predecessor. We are indeed unique and composed of the genetics of many persons who have gone before and will with luck, follow us. That is the much sought after 'everlasting life', we already have it.

Longevity and genes
It is now recognised that there is a single gene controlling how long a person may live1. This gene lies in chromosome 4 . Studies of siblings who were 90 years or older revealed that they shared the same genetic D.N.A. which gave them their great age. Cloning the D.N.A. could extend peoples lives. Women may live longer than men because they have stronger immune systems i.e. more white or "T" blood cells, males have a higher mortality rate than females before the age of five.
It is the thymus gland which manufactures the white blood cells and this production decreases in both sexes with age2
Today: Life expectancy in Western Societies averages 76 times around the sun for males and 82 for females. 75% of centenarians are women.

Martha Meakin [nee Midgley] of Normanton, West Yorkshire is the oldest Midgley at 104 years [2001] whom I have become aware of, can anyone substantiate a longer lived Midgley?
Contact: Tim Midgley

Viking Genetics
In November 1998 Dr. Steve Jones at the University College of London was reported to be studying the impact that Norse ['Viking'] raiders had upon the genetic heritage of Britain
See below

       "We have stood on the shoulders of others to see far" [Isaac Newton]

We know there are many traits and even diseases which "run in families". Studies at the University of Newcasle, N.S.W. have indicated that  a person's intelligence can be the result of a gene carried on the female X chromosome.

Males possess a mixture of X & Y chromosomes as the 23rd pair (sex chromosomes) whereas females have a pair of XX chromosomes. This indicates that when a male inherits intelligence, if his mother passes this on from his grandmother then he is likely to have the grandmother's intelligence gene.
The mother may not have the phenotype for her mother because she is also carrying the second X chromosome which may positively or negatively reinforce the the gene in the first X chromosome inherited. Males have a slightly higher chance of having intelligences from the extremes of the distribution curve because they only inherit one X chromosome. This conforms to known distributions of I.Q. for males and females which shows more males having very high and very low I.Q's compared to females, but more females outperform males in the mid-range. Gentlemen, before you procreate check the intelligence of your mother-in-law!

Like males, females can still get very low and  very high I.Q's but there are fewer at the extremes of the distribution curve compared to the average male.

From a study of twins it appears that I.Q. is about 80% nature and 20% nurture. The late Prof. Max Eysenck (L.S.E.) strongly argued for a genetic basis to human personality and behaviour but his work was seen as highly contentious. We can inherit haemophilia, a sex linked blood disease carried on the female chromosome which only affects males, so we may ask the question why do we revile from inheritance of intelligence? Is it that I.Q. is not seen as a tangible entity but a  human concept and very limited in what it measures? Recent genome studies indicate this hypothesis is now much maligned, it appears that intelligence (as measured by I.Q.) is a result of a combination of genes.

There are now considered to be multiple intelligences such as :
auditory [some people are good listeners]
interpersonal relationships
intrapersonal relationships
kinesthenic [learning through moving or doing]
calisthenics (e.g. dancers, wood turners)

Intelligence Quotient tests tend only to examine the first three "intelligences" and hence its demise as a tool of measurement in education. This fits better with the "Outcomes" approach to education where students are recognised to have specific abilities. These intelligences are likely to be carried in families and again a gene or group of genes may be responsible, if they are sex linked then this would give genealogists something else to think about.
The human genome project which mapped 3.1 billion CGT combinations was essentially completed a few years ago, this search provided us with more information about what our real inheritance is. Reports in November 1999 indicated that a U.S. commercial company trying to make monetary gain by identifying the human genetic code with the aid of a super-computer gene sequencer, claimed it could achieve in less or the same time what the U.S.-U.K. genome project would achieve. The difficulty appears to be that it would not seem possible to patent parts of the human genetic code even though it was not invented by anyone or any group. The written CGTA code was like a book published in a hurry, there were "spelling mistakes" in the code and "pages" were missing. In 2001 the "slower" but more complete method of uncovering the human genome was jointly announced alongside the commercial venture, by William Clinton in the White House.

Some believe genetic inheritance is eternal life, "The meaning of life" as we each live on through our genes, whilst the $10 worth of  chemicals we have borrowed for 70 years is used to transiently hold those genetic codes and is recycled through ecological systems. Isn't life clever! An island of order in a sea of chaos.
X =female sex chromosome -chromosome carrying gene for intelligence (I.Q.)

Y= male sex chromosome


                                  Parents (P1) :         X1 Y1           x            X2X3

                                  First family (F2) :                 X1X2, X1X3, Y1X2, Y1X3

we can see here that the male Y1X3  mix   is carrying only the intelligence gene in the  X3 chromosome whilst the female X1X3 carries a mix of intelligence genes  from the father's mother and the mother's mother.

In the next sequence notice how the female X chromosome brings other genetic material to the male, it appears that the female chromosome brings variety to an unchanging male Y chromosome (supposing no mutations occur).

P1: X1Y1    x     X2X3

P2: X1Y1   x     X4X5

F2: X1X4,  X1X5,  X4Y1,  X5Y1.

P3: X5Y1 x X6X7

F3: X5X6,  X5X7,  X6Y1,  X7Y1

                                                                              If the children do well it must be genetic, if they don't, it must be their teachers!



Thus geneticists tell us that when males choose a future partner it is more advantageous if they choose an intelligent female to ensure their offspring have a higher chance of being more intelligent. Looks are fleeting, genetics are forever. 

Left-handedness and inheritance
Dr. Sue Forrest at the Murdoch Institute in Victoria, Australia has been involved in a full genome search for left-handedness. About 10% of the population prefers to use the left hand for the majority of tasks, the number being slightly more common in males. The majority of University Professors, in one survey in the 1970's were shown to be left-handed. This is supported by evidence to show that most "Gifted and Talented students" are left-handed. Bach, Beethoven and Paul McCartney are well known left-handers. For some reason, left -handers are more proficient at Gregg's shorthand rather than Pittman's.

Can your surname be traced from your D.N.A.?
In April 2000 evidence was published by Prof. Bryan Sykes* of University Oxford, which showed from studies of his own name and others, that even the surname of an individual may be determined from their D.N.A. sequence in the Y chromosome:
[*Bryan's forebears are from Yorkshire in the Elland district. There are many Sykes intermarried with Midgley family members throughout West Yorkshire]. See Midgley DNA evidence
DNA clues at scene can name criminals/families

DNA found at a rape or murder scene could soon be used by police to trace the surname of the criminal.
Oxford University scientists said they were astonished to discover a match between English surnames and DNA from theY chromosome, which, passed from fathers to sons.
The new research, which provided the first direct link between genes and surnames, was expected to have a major impact on genealogy and an important role in forensic science.
Professor of human genetics at Oxford, Bryan Sykes, made the discovery when "as a bit of fun" he wrote to a random sample of 250 men with the surname Sykes and asked for a sample of cells swabbed from their cheek.
Of the 61 who returned their DNA, half were found to have an identical Y chromosome 'fingerprint'
- a pattern not found anywhere else.
The rest had a variety of patterns suggesting that new Y chromosomes were introduced (by adoption or infidelity) into the Sykes gene pool - a name dating back to 1300.
The research suggested there was only one founder of the Sykes clan, a surprise given the name was taken from a common Yorkshire boundary stream centuries ago.
Professor Sykes tested three other surnames and obtained similar results.

He said it meant most families had a single founder whose Y chromosome pattern had still survived.

"If you have a more common name, such as Smith or Jones you might find several founders, but most people have relatively rare surnames and I suspect for them there is only a single founder."

The discovery, published in this month's issue of the American Journal Human Genetics, was so significant it was already the subject of a worldwide patent.
Professor Sykes said the discovery could be used to predict a surname from the DNA left at a crime scene.
"It won't be evidence on which you can convict, but it will be useful to have a name," he said.

What's in a name?

Recently, a very  rare Y chromosome was found in a Yorkshireman living in Leicester. This Y chromosome was previously found only in West Africa.  The survey of 150 pairs of men focussed on their shared surname,  e.g. Smith-Smith, Jones-Jones etc. These pairs of volunteers were not known to have a shared ancestry.
Their Y chromosome was analysed and then each was compared. Only 25% of this sample showed a common ancestry through their Y chromosome and thus a shared common ancestry. Removal of high frequency names such as Smith increased the chance of sharing ancestry to 50%. and when the test was applied to rarer  names this increased to 80%. As research continued into this common ancestry a eureka moment was experienced when a rare West African Y chromosome was discovered, previously only known in 25 African people in West Africa.
After this discovery the researchers, Professor Jobling and Turi King of Leicester University, collected D.N.A. from 18 men with the same surname [Revis] as that of the man with this rare Y chromosome. They then found that 7 of them also shared this rare Y chromosome. The men were all Caucasian and had no known African ancestry. The original man found to have the West African Y chromosome traced his ancestry back to the mid 1700's and could not find any ancestors of African origin.. Further research 'paper-trailed' the chromosome back to two family trees in Yorkshire from 1780.
There are two hypotheses as to how this chromosome entered Britain:
1. The Romans brought soldiers from North Africa about 200 A.D.
2. Via the slave trade. In the late 1700's there were about 10,000 Africans residing in the U.K.
Prof. Jobling states that " This research raises the possibility of tracing surnames back to single founders, and of linking together branches of family trees by the information written in D.N.A., rather than B.M.D. certificates." The level of illegitimacy indicated by the genetic study shows a rate of about 1%, not the generally  10% suggested by traditional genealogy.3 See Midgley D.N.A.

                                                                                 Mitochondrial D.N.A. and gene mapping:
Oxford Ancestors#- A commercial site where you can have your D.N.A. mapped, by Prof. Bryan Sykes' team to find out :
1. if you have Viking ancestry
2. if you belong to the same Midgley branch as someone else [by comparing your profiles]
3. which of the "Seven daughters' of Eve" you are related to!

                                         Prof. Bryan Sykes' family tree is crossed with some of the Midgley branches in West Yorkshire.

Leicester UniversityGenetic "fingerprint" analysis was first developed by Alec Jefferys in 1984 researching in the Biology Department at the University of Leicester, U.K. Initially called "DNA fingerprinting" we now refer the separation of DNA proteins by elecrophoresis and the identification process as "DNA profiling".

"On the morning of the 10th September 1984 Alec Jeffreys stumbled upon DNA profiling, identifying the patterns of genetic material that are unique to almost every individual. The discovery revolutionized everything from criminal investigations to family law. Jeffreys is still awed, and a bit worried, by the power of the technology he unleashed upon the world. “I think there are potentially major issues about genetic privacy,” Jeffreys said in September 2004 at a press briefing to mark the 20th anniversary of the discovery.

The Y chromosome - Is it diminishing? Does size matter?

In the November 1999 issue of Science the Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts sets out the case for the diminishing Y chromosome. The institute traced the divergence of the X and Y chromosome.The earliest, and todays simplest plants and animals show no male/female characteristics. This divergence began about 320-240 million years ago and is continuing today.

Like many genetic changes it began with a random mutation on the proto-Y chromosome which continued with punctuated evolution ("jumps") until today.
The modern X chromosome has about 10 times more genes than a modern Y chromosome which has been casting off genes that are not useful to the male for the last 320 m.y.
Each Y contains the SRY gene which is the master-switch for maleness in all plants and animals which reproduce by sexual methods, i.e. two distinct specialised reproductive cells.

Epigenetic switches & how your life experiences may affect the future genetics of your descendants and how you too may have been affected by your predecessors......                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Studies of families over several generations within isolated communities have shown a pattern which supports the theory of genome imprinting. That is, the life experiences of the grandparents &c. may have implications for future generations in up to 80% of individuals. For example if a grandparent is exposed to famine, a particular pesticide or other organic molecule not usually found within the body, the offspring of future generations may be affected by the experience of the ancestor. This has dire implications for those whose predecessors may have been exposed to severe stress situations, psychotropic [mind-altering] drugs, even smoking tobacco or excessive consumption of alcohol. 

Since the human  genome has been revealed by geneticists it has been realised that the ~30,000 genes that are actually active are insufficient to account for the complexity of the species [grasses for example have more genes than we do]. Research using many generations of mice supports the theory of genome imprinting where genes may be switched on or off by a controlling environmental factor. This is an added complexity to the previously recognised mechanical inheritance of genes.

The critical times when predecessors may be affected by their environment is an important part of the inheritance of epigenetic switches. In males the sensitive or critical time for exposure is just before puberty when the sperm cells are beginning to develop. In females, the critical time is at their conception and shortly thereafter when the immature ova are formed.

The increase in the use of mind-altering drugs in recent generations may have far reaching effects into future generations, far beyond the individual who originally ingested them. This is another good reason to choose your parents and your partner very carefully.

These so-called epigenetic switches are in fact methyl groups [-CH3] that are attached along different parts of the DNA molecule. It seems that these methyl groups can turn specific genes along the DNA molecule on or off in a similar way that the binary code operates in a computer. Depending on the location of these methyl groups a person may suffer from such debilitating inherited diseases such as Parkinson's Disease or Schizophrenia. Methylation may also be found to control whether a person is heterosexual or homosexual. The study of epigenetics is an enormous area for future research and is likely to lead to a better understanding of how our genes may be modified and hopefully solve some of humanities major debilitating diseases.




< Methyl groups attached to a part of a DNA molecule thus modifying the effect of the genes ('rungs' of the ladder)



Archaea and bacteria

Primitive organisms called archaea and primeval bacteria have been fingered for beginning the complexity of life. Archaea are believed to have engulfed early bacteria in order to assist in the formation of mitochondria, the energy source for cells. The study of archaea show that humans share 200 genes with modern forms of Archaea, indicating a common origin. The sea worm Amphioxus, led to the vertebrate structure, again the amphioxus genome lies within our own genome leading to a four-fold structure for vertebrates. Further studies have shown that on chromosome No. 7 there is a gene for seeing the colour blue while the X chromosome carries the gene for seeing red and green.

Differences between humans

There is only 1 in 1000 genes difference between each person, thus of the 30,000 active genes there are a maximum of 30 genes difference.


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1. Perls, T., et al., Proc. U.S. National Acad. Science, August 2001.
2. New Scientist September 2001.
3. Extract from the Graduates Review, Leicester University Spring 2007.

©  Tim Midgley, November 1998. Revised  3rd October 2012.