The craziness started a few weeks later with a phone call: "Rebecca? Phil Brooks here with DNA Print Genomics. Did you know you're Native American?" Um, no. "Well you are -- 10 percent Native American, 90 percent European." Ten minutes later: "Rebecca? Phil Brooks with DNA Print Genomics again. I need to talk to you about your brother." Then he lowered the phone, and I could hear him whispering to someone in the background. "Do you want to tell her or should I?" Then commotion, several voices, one man saying, "No, just tell her what we found," and the lab manager, Matt Thomas, suddenly on the line launching into a lecture about basic genetics. "Children are supposed to have a combination of genes from two specific people," he said. Suddenly it hit me: I forgot to tell them that my brother and I have different fathers. I wasn't trying to trick them, I just forgot. My brother was four when I was born; he's always just been my brother. "Are you trying to tell me my brother isn't my brother?" I asked after several minutes of listening to him stumble. Thomas inhaled sharply. "Um ... if I were, would that be true?" Once I'd explained, he lowered the phone again and yelled: "They have different fathers!" The room erupted in cheers. "We had a little bet going," he said sheepishly. "I just lost."
As they cheered, an automated e-mail from Family Tree DNA flashed on my screen: "You have a match!" it said, pointing me to a Web site where I could get contact information for my new Genetic Cousins. Then another e-mail: this time from a woman named Patricia Baker who had gotten the same automated e-mail; she was welcoming me to the family. Patricia was one of Family Tree DNA's first customers; she had
tested herself hoping to learn about (and, ideally, find) her father, whom she'd never known and whom her now-deceased mother had refused to discuss. Patricia, I learned, gets excited with the arrival of every new e-mail from Family Tree because she hopes they've found someone who can help find her father. Apparently the company didn't clarify one crucial point: The test she had done -- a mitochondrial test -- only provides information about her mother's side of the family. The test Family Tree offers that could shed light on Patricia's father is a Y chromosome test, which Patricia can't do, because she has no Y chromosome and no known male relative.
My next e-mail was from Bennett Greenspan, founder and president of Family Tree DNA. "I'll tell you exactly which of your relatives were Jewish," he wrote, "and exactly where they came from. How's that for confidence?!" Impressive indeed, particularly since I had never let on that I came from Jewish stock. Within a few hours, he called. "You've got beautiful DNA," he whispered into the phone. Then: "These results are going to be more than you can handle." Turns out, he said, I have Jewish ancestors on my father's side from Eastern Europe (which I do); my maternal grandfather's mitochondrial DNA is the most common European DNA out there, and my grandfather has the same kind of Y chromosome as my father, which sure sounded like he was saying my mother and father were somehow related.
DNA Print's analysis soon followed, and showed that my family is European, Native American and East Asian -- everything on the list except African. My grandfather registered
as 100 percent European -- no trace of Elenor. Amazingly enough, they told me, my mother and grandmother came back with identical genetic balances: 87 percent European; 13
percent Native American.
At this point, I'm thinking: If these tests are right, my
mother is a clone of my grandmother, I'm Native American enough to qualify for a few scholarships, there's no trace of my African ancestor, and since my mother's father and my father share the same Y chromosome, I'm the offspring of some strange sort of inbreeding. Things could hardly get weirder. Or so I thought.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.