Genetic heritage as history
Carl Sagan used to ask us to consider the “pale blue dot,” our small but beautiful home planet. Earth is just one among billions and billions of planets, set against a vast and timeless cosmos. But it is the only world which we know that life exists. It is precious despite its delicate insignificance.
Such facts illustrate the reality that intellectually we can grasp our insignificance against incredible canvas of the universe, and yet still derive inspiration and meaning in our lives. The grandeur does not diminish, it inspires awe.
Similarly, all life on earth descends from common ancestors four billion years in the past, from bacteria to human to redwood. And as Sagan would say, fundamentally we are all made of “star stuff” — the elements in our bodies being the products of an ancient supernova.
And yet this chain of ancestry, this common lineage, is made concrete and comprehensible through the generations that came before us through those we have come to know and love. Our parents, our grandparents, and their own memories of those who have passed before.
The genetic tests that tell you your heritage, your genetic ancestry, fill in the gap between deep time and the people who you know, the people whose pictures you may have in your family album. This album extends back beyond the few generations most of us know about, into the deepest recesses of history. Beyond easy comprehension, and yet still human — not cosmic in scope and scale.
Over the generations much of our history has been forgotten. That which is remembered is often distorted — a palimpsest of past events. The role of genetic science is to fill in the gaps in our knowledge — to complement oral history and paint a more accurate picture of the deeper historical narrative that may get lost in the shuffle of records. And for some, genetics is the only record available.
For most people ancestry does not tell us who we are: we know that. But it allows us to construct a richer and more complete story of the generations that led up to us. The story does not define us, but it helps to set the stage for the lives we lead, and provides a foundation for the next generation.
Unlock your own story of Neanderthal today.
Republished with permission from Insitome.
Helix is the leading population genomics and viral surveillance company operating at the intersection of clinical care, research, and data analytics.