Science and Inquiry discussion

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes
109 views
Book Club 2020 > July 2020 - A Brief History of Everyone

Comments Showing 1-36 of 36 (36 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Betsy | 1660 comments Mod
For July 2020 we will be reading A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford.

Please use this thread to post questions, comments, and reviews, at any time.


message 2: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments I noticed that my Kindle edition started with an introduction by Siddartha Mukherjee (that's a sure sign that it will be good!). He notes that he's introducing the North American edition and later says the following:

"In this edition, Rutherford tackles a few thorny concerns that are particularly relevant to our side of the world. Our attempt to reconstruct the early history of human settlement in North America has been dramatically reshaped by modern genomics. By studying genes, we might be able to understand the migration patterns of humans across this continent, decipher the lineal relationships between tribes, and even track the first genetic intersections between Native Americans and European settlers."

Rutherford, Adam. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes . The Experiment. Kindle Edition.

I wonder if there is much difference between the U.S. edition and editions published elsewhere.


George P. | 24 comments I'm 70% through reading this now, hope to finish in about a week- I have too many other books going concurrently.
I've been enjoying it a lot, learning some interesting things that I had long wanted to know more about.
I'm currently in the section about race, of course very relevant now. Rutherford says that to a geneticist race isn't a real thing and that caucasians are more genetically similar to Asians or Pacific islanders than two black Africans from different parts of Africa are to one another. He also explains how all people of European ancestry are descendants of Charlemagne.
So there are a few things in it I knew about but a lot I didn't and I look forward to reading the rest.


message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I got this from the library today & will start it soon.


message 5: by Larry (last edited Jul 03, 2020 05:18AM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments CH.1
We are the unbroken descendants of maybe four billion years ago of life. About two billion years ago, our ancestor “didn’t even need two parents.”

The tree that leads from bipedal apes to humans has gotten more and more complicated. Lucy, a member of the species Australopithecus afarensis, was born about 3.2 million years ago. We still don’t know “if her species was a direct ancestor of us.”

When our ancestors left Africa about 100,000 years ago, they met “Neanderthals in Europe, and other species en route, and according to our DNA, bred with many of them.” Even with that, Neanderthals are separated from came to be our species (Homo sapiens) by about 500, 000 to 600,000 years. One important point, mentioned briefly, is that maybe we and the Neanderthals shouldn't be considered to be a different species from Homo sapiens ... there were those interbreeding events that led to fertile offspring that were our ancestors.


message 6: by Larry (last edited Jul 05, 2020 05:57AM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Do those segments of our genome that come from Neanderthals matter much? Betsy posted a link to this article in the Covid-19 discussion thread.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/04/he...

"A stretch of DNA linked to Covid-19 was passed down from Neanderthals 60,000 years ago, according to a new study.

Scientists don’t yet know why this particular segment increases the risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. But the new findings, which were posted online on Friday and have not yet been published in a scientific journal, show how some clues to modern health stem from ancient history. ...

This piece of the genome, which spans six genes on Chromosome 3, has had a puzzling journey through human history, the study found. The variant is now common in Bangladesh, where 63 percent of people carry at least one copy. ...Elsewhere, however, the segment is far less common. Only 8 percent of Europeans carry it, and just 4 percent have it in East Asia. It is almost completely absent in Africa."


message 7: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments And then the Denisovans! A story which begins with a tooth and a finger a tooth and a finger - the Denisovans were discovered by analyzing the mitochondrial DNA in 2010.

To summarize, about a million years ago in Africa, a group of humans in Africa existed that gave rise to us, the Neanderthals, and the Denisovans. The latter have provided up to five percent of the DNA to contemporary Melanesians ... and a small amount to Tibetans.

The Denisovan story gets even stranger. David Reich’s research shoes that they mixed with a fourth species, one for whom we have no DNA to compare.

The seven billion of us alive today are “the last remaining group of human great apes from a set of at least four that existed 50,000 years ago.”


message 8: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments CH. 2

The”powerhouse of the genetics work is headquartered in David Reich’s lab in Harvard.”

Reich has shown that modern Europeans principally come “from three different groups of people. Hunter-gatherers who came up from Africa via Eurasia 40,000 years ago. Between 9,000 and 7,000, eastern farms slowly began to enter. The two populations underwent a slow integration. Around 5,000 years , the pale skinned Yamnaya entered from the Russian Steppes, with sheep, wagons and bronze jewelry. They were also farmers.

A change in a gene to allow lactase persistence allowed adults to keep on consuming milk … sometime after 8,000 years ago. Distribution of genes suggests that the origin might have been in Scandinavia or Ireland, but more recent work locates it in Eastern Europe among the Linear Pottery people.


message 9: by Larry (last edited Jul 12, 2020 08:05AM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments CH. 3

This chapter, devoted to the peopling of the Americas, is a real disappointment. If you know nothing--or even very little--about this subject, it could serve as an introduction. But it gets some things very wrong, oversimplifies other things, and doesn't really relate recent discoveries, ones that have come from the work of David Reich and his lab at Harvard, the work that was so effusively praised in chapter 2.

I really recommend David Reich's book, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past. In particular, see Reich's chapter seven on the peopling of the Americas. "In Search of Native American Ancestors." I will say this. Reich's book is much more difficult reading, and for that reason, starting the book at hand, i.e. A BRIEF HISTORY ..., still is not a bad idea.


message 10: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments From yesterday's (8 July 2020) Guardian ... strong evidence for a Polynesian to the native American genome.

"Indigenous Americans and Polynesians bridged vast expanses of open ocean around the year 1200 and mingled, leaving incontrovertible proof of their encounter in the DNA of present-day populations, new studies have revealed."

SOURCE: https://www.theguardian.com/world/202...


message 11: by Betsy, co-mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Betsy | 1660 comments Mod
I recently finished this book. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to others, but it wasn't five stars. Here is my review.


message 12: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I wasn't too thrilled with chapter 3. He covered quite a few of the major ideas & hedged a lot, but the ideas are in a lot of flux at the moment. He also alluded to the tip of SA & then never got back to it, IIRC. (I'm listening to this & haven't skimmed the chapter in the ebook, yet.) That was disappointing.

He fails to mention that the One-drop Rule has an odious history in the US. It seems hypocritical to use it, but it's common, even among liberal US citizens. For instance, Elizabeth Warren's claim to be Cherokee. That one claim & the furor surrounding it demonstrates the point far better than his maundering, IMO.

More disappointing was his lobbying for religious rights taking precedence over scientific investigation. I would have hoped that he would have tried for bodily remains passing into common use at some point. After all, he belabors the point of how few years ago we all have a common ancestor in this chapter & the next.


Jennifer | 3 comments Larry wrote: "Do those segments of our genome that come from Neanderthals matter much? Betsy posted a link to this article in the Covid-19 discussion thread.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/04/he......"


That was an interesting read. I will be interested in further research around it.


David Rubenstein | 860 comments Mod
I enjoyed the book. It is well-written, and the author's dry wit helped to keep my attention, along with some very interesting stories. The author is a geneticist, so to my mind that lends to the book a lot of credibility. Here is my review.


message 15: by Larry (last edited Jul 12, 2020 05:14PM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jim wrote: "More disappointing was his lobbying for religious rights taking precedence over scientific investigation. I would have hoped that he would have tried for bodily remains passing into common use at some point."

Jim, I wish that different tribes were more interested in exploring scientifically what could be learned about their origins. I think that some tribes have been persuaded/induced in donating DNA through financial means. All in all, I strongly support the Indian tribes on this issue.

The Elizabeth Warren claim is not well understood by many people--except probably most adults of the Five Civilized Tribes. You can have minimal Cherokee ancestry--perhaps as little as 1/128--and still be a full Cherokee. It all depends whether you have Cherokee ancestors that were enrolled on the Dawes Rolls by 1907. I am part Cherokee and part Creek Indian but none of my ancestors were enrolled; none of my Indian ancestors were unlucky enough to be forced onto the Trail of Tears, ending up in Indian Territory. (They had married white Americans in the 18th century.) I have full-blooded Choctaw cousins who are enrolled members of the Choctaw nation, but many enrolled members of that tribe also are not 100 percent Choctaw.


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments All of my grandparents & grandparents immigrated to the US. Their object was to become Americans, not to retain ties to the countries they left. They remembered the Old Country, but they left them because America held great promise. They worked hard to fit in & become good Americans. They did & I find their example far more productive than clinging to old ethnic ideals which don't help us move forward at all.


message 17: by Larry (last edited Jul 13, 2020 06:20AM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jim wrote: "All of my grandparents & grandparents immigrated to the US. Their object was to become Americans, not to retain ties to the countries they left. They remembered the Old Country, but they left them ...They did & I find their example far more productive than clinging to old ethnic ideals which don't help us move forward at all."

Jim, that's nice. And I don't mean that in any sarcastic sense. But what you are arguing for implicitly is the virtue of the Protestant ethic--whether or not your ancestors were even Protestants--and that's another form of embedded religious favoritism. I don't mean to distract us more from the book. Do feel free to reply to this, but I'll probably just get back to a discussion of the book.

Larry


message 18: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments Larry wrote: "...But what you are arguing for implicitly is the virtue of the Protestant ethic--whether or not your ancestors were even Protestants--and that's another form of embedded religious favoritism..."

I think you're misunderstanding me. I meant it in relation to one of the main messages in this book. We're all related very few centuries back & are now our own unique mix, so we should be looking forward, not backward. Holding on to one-drop ties is repugnant to me, especially since the goal is to make sure they don't matter in future generations. I have absolutely no patience for people who want to keep old culture or historical feuds alive to the detriment of the future & this book only adds weight to that belief.

Even as a kid, I thought it was ridiculous when some of my paternal family made a big deal about kilts & Campbells. I got in trouble for saying so to some great uncle or cousin who was visiting. That's a Scot thing & we're Americans. If they want to perpetuate it, it's their business (Silly, it's been over 300 years since the Massacre of Glencoe.) but certainly none of ours.


message 19: by Larry (last edited Jul 13, 2020 01:09PM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Ch.4 - Rutherford uses the work of Joseph Chang, a statistician from Stanford, to explain how recently the people of Europe have a common answer and finds that would have been about 600 years ago. It is an unknown individual.

Stranger is the fact that 80 percent [of the people living 1000 years ago] are the ancestor of everyone living today.

And maybe even stranger is Chang’s finding that “the most recent common ancestor of everyone today on Earth lived only around 3,400 years ago. … it places that person somewhere in Asia.”


message 20: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Interesting examples of the use of DNA ... one to verify the discovered body in a grave that was exhumed in 2012 under a car park as the body of Richard III … Using mitochondrial DNA, the skeleton was confirmed to be Richard. He “ is now the oldest person to be unequivocally identified in death.”

And an a really good look into the family tree of the Hapsburg family and Charles II of Spain. He was more cumulatively inbred than if he had been the son of a brother and sister.


message 21: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I thought Rutherford got a bit lost in the trees & missed the forest in his discussion of race. He bent all his efforts on & was quite repetitive showing how they didn't matter & missed how often they do matter. For instance, I would have appreciated it if he'd pointed out just how the 3 major race idea has helped in a field like forensics or general groups can make a difference in medicine, but that would have undercut his argument badly.

He mentions sickle cell as an adaptation against malaria & mentions it even extends into Greece. I thought I read somewhere that there was another adaptation against malaria in the Mediterranean area, though. He never mentioned that. Does anyone know?

He mentioned Roosevelt, Churchill, & Stopes, but didn't mention Margaret Sanger or Madison Grant (Bronx Zoo, Bison Society, & a couple of parks) & ignored the role Galton's eugenics ideas had in forming the modern conservation & ecological movements. Sanger's efforts led to Planned Parenthood while Grant's book went on to become Hitler's bible. Vogt, the father of the modern ecology movement & a director of PP, coupled Galton's ideas with those of Malthus. Maybe all that would have been too much of a tangle, but I find it fascinating how such great ideas & intentions went so right & wrong.


message 22: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jim wrote: "I would have appreciated it if he'd pointed out just how the 3 major race idea has helped in a field like forensics or general groups can make a difference in medicine, but that would have undercut his argument badly..."

Jim, I don't understand. Please explain.

Larry


message 23: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jim, and maybe this also "ignored the role Galton's eugenics ideas had in forming the modern conservation & ecological movements. "

Thanks.


message 24: by Jim (last edited Jul 15, 2020 11:22AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I'm not sure what's unclear. If you're not familiar with them, it's too involved for me to explain in a post. I recommend The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World & most any book on forensics, although I think Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist is pretty good.


message 25: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jim, I'm sorry that you are having a hard time explaining your questions without asking me to read other books. I don't think that works for me.


message 26: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments Larry wrote: "Jim, I'm sorry that you are having a hard time explaining your questions without asking me to read other books. I don't think that works for me."

Any brief explanation is a poor one, but basically 'race' is often used to determine the looks of a body that has decomposed including skin color.

Perhaps if you read Madison Grant's & Vogt's Wikipedia entries that part would make more sense, but I think it takes a book to really describe their thinking at the time. It really doesn't mesh with our current beliefs at all. Roosevelt was all for conservation, yet killed thousands of animals, including those he knew were endangered to help start natural history museums.


message 27: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jim, thanks.


Jennifer | 3 comments Larry wrote: "Interesting examples of the use of DNA ... one to verify the discovered body in a grave that was exhumed in 2012 under a car park as the body of Richard III … Using mitochondrial DNA, the skeleton ..."

The cumulative inbreeding fascinates.


message 29: by Larry (last edited Jul 16, 2020 11:28AM) (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Jennifer wrote: "The cumulative inbreeding fascinates."

I had no understanding of the quantitative analysis of that cumulative inbreeding of the Hapsburg family. I had read narratives of it in European histories, but the numbers really drive home how seriously inbred the family was.


message 30: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 623 comments I finished the book a couple of days ago. Basically, I liked it, but found the repetition & gaping holes in his arguments hurt the book too much, so I gave it a 3 star review here:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 31: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Back to the book after a week at the beach ... Ch.5 ... I guess I knew the following, but it still surprises me. Because the founder population is in Africa and stayed in Africa for a long time, genetic diversity is greatest there .... and so, “genetically, two black people are more likely to be more different to each other than a black person and a whites person.” That is, average Namibian and Nigerians are more closely genetically similar to a Swede than to each other ..."


message 32: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Ch. 6 - All about the human genome ..."In the human genome, there are around 3 billion individual letters of DNA. Bets on how many human genes there were taken, with the winning bet being 25,947. “The real number is around 20,000.” Many bets were much higher. One was 291,059.

“Even the definition of a gene is not rock solid.” Originally,it was specified that it was a bit of DNA that encoded a protein. But now we think some--he doesn't say this, but actually probably only a few--genes have slightly different functions.

Humans have fewer genes than a roundworm … or a banana … or a grain of rice. The exome — the part of our DNA that encodes proteins—is less than 2 percent of the total DNA. Most cells only require a handful of genes to be active at any given time. The genes on a chromosome are broken up by other bits of DNA called introns. And they don’t encode proteins either. Some genes are transcription factors. Some genes are pseudogenes. These are genes that used to be important, but evolution has edited out their functional use. “And then there are huge chunks of DNA that are just repeated sections.” And other chunks that don’t seem to do much at all. We used to call this junk DNA, but that was a really bad name for it."


message 33: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Let me just add that Chapter 6 is a really good introduction to what the genome consists of: 3 billion "letters" which across our chromosomes given us 20,000 genes and the other stuff, e.g. introns, transcription factors, pseudogenes, and the badly named "junk DNA."


message 34: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Ch. 7

An introduction to epigenetics ... and the silencing of genes by methyl groups.


message 35: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments Ch. 8

This was a surprise ... We are still evolving. Some women (perhaps one in eight) may be tetrachromatic, a new color sensitivity that allows them to see “colors where others see monotones.”


message 36: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Deaton | 68 comments All in all, this was a very good book. As I mentioned earlier, there are a few flaws, most notably about the peopling of the Americas. Of course, whatever is concluded about that matter seems to be revised in some minor ways every few months.

I can strongly recommend this book to people who want an introduction to how our human genome makes us the people we are.


back to top