charles darwin, darwin
Undated photo of the monument of British
scientist Charles Robert Darwin, founder
of the theory for the evolution of life, in
the Natural History Museum in London.

DNA Technology Reveals Charles Darwin’s Ancient Ancestry

February 04, 2010 06:25 PM
by Colleen Brondou
Darwin’s great-great-grandson submitted a cheek swab sample to the Genographic Project in order to discover his—and his great-great-grandfather’s—“human deep ancestry.”

Where Did Darwin’s Ancestors Come From?

More than 200 years after Charles Darwin’s birth, “DNA technology has helped determine who Darwin’s ancient ancestors were,” National Geographic reports. Chris Darwin, Darwin’s great-great-grandson, took part in a Genographic Project cheek swab test that analyzed his “Y” chromosome. The test revealed that Chris and Charles Darwin descended from the one of the most common male lineages in Europe—the Haplogroup R1b. According to the test results, Darwin’s paternal ancestors migrated from northeast Africa to North Africa or the Middle East around 45,000 years ago.

Background: Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England. He was never a great student but he was an avid collector of beetles. After graduating from college, the budding naturalist accepted a position on the HMS Beagle to examine and collect specimens around the world.

While stationed aboard the HMS Beagle at the Galapagos Islands, Darwin recorded observations that led to the publication of “The Origin of Species,” the genesis of the modern theory of evolution. Initially, Darwin’s theories inspired controversy, even contempt.

According to naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Darwin faced obstacles not only because of biblical teachings but because scientists did not yet know about DNA or continental drift. He worried that if he published his theories, he would risk angering not only the Church, but also his own wife. NOVA’s “Darwin’s Darkest Hour,” a docudrama that aired in October 2009, examined his struggle with the decision to share his controversial research.

As the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of Species” approached in 2008, however, the Church of England made a posthumous apology to Darwin for initially rebuffing his theories. The Church even dedicated a section of its Web site to an exploration of his ideas.

Related Topic: DNA tests reveal family secrets

Don Kincaid, a Texan seeking to establish his ancestry and reconnect with distant relatives, encouraged more than 140 people with variations of the surname Kincaid to take DNA tests and submit their results online. Two brothers discovered they each had a different father. Their mother, now elderly, rejected accusations that she either had an affair or adopted one of her sons.

Reference: Genetics

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to Genetics offers links to an introduction to genetics, resources for teaching genetics, information on genetic disorders and genetic sequencing, and more.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines