Good morning, all. Ok, ok, let’s settle down. Although the thick snow cover says otherwise, welcome to what’s ironically called the “Spring Semester.”
Exactly! Just like referring to last semester as the “Fall Semester” when that first week was hot as Hades and humid as Honduras.
Be that as it may, welcome back. Hope you all brought your pencil case and a “Jonny Quest” lunchbox. No? How about a Trapper Keeper?
If you recall, during the “Fall Semester” – Yes, Mr. Tuthill, those were “air quotes,” which we know can denote either a literal excerpt or the use of irony. Why would you …?
You’re pre-law. Well, of course you are. And these Intro to Genetics classes will – let me guess – satisfy your science requirement to graduate? Ah.
You know, some enterprising grad student could get themselves a cornucopia of grant funding, not to mention getting published, by conducting a study of “Genetic Traits of Members of the Legal Profession.” As in, does the genetic makeup of such suit-wearing, briefcase-toting men and women Mr. Tuthill and who knows how many other misguided souls hope to join, predispose them to, say, arrogance, amoral attitudes and/or insensitivity?
Just kidding. Some of my best friends are … Well, none are. Not one.
That aside, today we’ll discuss how a person’s DNA can shape their physical attributes, even their likes and dislikes. We’ll put aside, for the moment, “nurture” to concentrate on “nature.” And as was the case last semester, I offer up my genetic reports for examination.
I’m sorry, what was that? “100 percent Geek and Nerd?” While there are those who may share that opinion, usually muttered anonymously, the record is, well, silent on that possibility. Need I remind you who were here last year that I share a common ancestor with Nial of the Nine Hostages, one of Ireland’s better known ancient High Kings?
Additionally, since then it’s come to my attention that I’m a descendent of King Charlemagne!
Charlemagne? Ninth Century ruler who united most of Western Europe for the first time since the fall of the western Roman Empire? Any of you ever take a history course?
To be honest, it’s not all that special, genetically speaking. Virtually everyone of European descent is part of the Charlemagne family tree. Why? That’ll come later in the semester.
You should recall that the reports on my genetic makeup concluded that yours truly is 100 percent European. I’ll say it before any of you volunteer – when you look up “pasty white dude” in the dictionary, there’s my picture.
I’ve heard members of my tribe described as “sour cream people,” and while I might have reason to take offense, there’s no point in denying the truth.
Recently, 23andme has me as 89.5 percent British and Irish, 2.9 percent French and German and 1.6 percent Italian. Mama Mia! Sorry. Actually, not at all. Initially I was 1 percent Italian and 1 percent Scandinavian, but the updated numbers seem to have erased my Viking heritage.
Why, for Thor’s sake!
Yes, Mr. Tuthill, that doesn’t add up to 100 percent. The rest is categorized as broadly European, or words to that effect.
What’s it all mean, other than my lack of dermal pigmentation? DNA does suggest that our origins may be responsible, at least in part, for a number of personal traits. Perhaps not the characteristics earlier attributed to attorneys, those kooky, crazy professionals, but who can say for sure?
For example, 23andme said my relatives are 65 percent more likely to have worked as lifeguards. My Mom did just that at a community pool in Levittown while carrying me. Yes, I know, poor, poor woman. My son was a lifeguard, as was my little brother.
I’m sorry? Correct, I was not on “Baywatch,” nor am I related to David Hasselhoff, at least not that I know of, anyway. Five minutes in the sun and I sizzle like bacon. The report did say “relatives,” after all.
Regarding my appearance and senses – What, no wisecracks? I am disappointed – 23andme suggests I’m less likely to be able to match a musical pitch. Again, let me beat you to it. My playing the bagpipes strongly endorses that.
Har de har har.
Next, I likely can detect asparagus odor. Some people can’t? Huh.
To speed this along, I’ll just go down the list.
Less likely to have back hair. Hey, this is what it says. Correct. TMI? Too bad.
Likely no bald spot. So far, so good and yet it says early hair loss is likely. However, “early” is no longer a worry.
Likely sense bitter taste. Check. Brussel sprouts are mine enemy.
Bunions. We’ll skip that.
Likely no cheek dimples. Can’t see for the fur, but that’s true.
Higher odds of disliking cilantro. What’s cilantro? A foreign sports car?
Dandruff, earlobe type, earwax type, yeah, fuggedaboutit.
Let’s see – blue or green eyes, lots of freckles, light hair, hair sun bleaching, lighter skin. Yes, yes, yes, yes and – drumroll, please – yes. In this case, DNA simply supports the bloomin’ obvious.
Now for something completely different, it sez rightheer that I have average odds of hating chewing sounds and am less likely to sneeze when exposed to sunlight. Burst into flame, perhaps, but no sneezing. As for chewing, depends on the person.
Yes, Mr. Tuthill, I’m looking at you.
Oh, I’m also less likely that others to be bitten by a mosquito. Also true. The Missus claims I send them all over to her, which I will neither confirm nor deny.
Ok, what else? Well, this isn’t accurate. “Less likely to experience motion sickness.” Was once a recreational shark fisherman, but every time out, even when dead calm, guaranteed I’d, well, you know, repeatedly. Finally wised up and sold my custom-made rig and bought a stereo.
Stretch marks, toe length ratio? Ew and Ew. Ah, but less likely to have a unibrow. Correct, see? “Ewwwwwwww?” Really? You folk do want to pass this course, right?
If you recall, when registering, all were required to complete a DNA test through one of the companies that offer same. The results should be in sometime this month. In addition to describing your ethnic heritage and whether sunlight makes you sneeze, you’ll all learn about your ties to Neanderthals, ancient hominids who, before going extinct some 40,000 years ago, seem to have been “friends with benefits” with some of the modern humans who eventually passed them on the climb up the evolutionary ladder.
Yes, the stereotype is that of a club-wielding caveman, a la Fred Flintstone. To tell the truth, I always thought Betty Rubble was, um … that’s not germane to this subject.
Hard to imagine such ancient interactions, considering Neanderthals in general were shorter, stockier with a larger chest and nose. Not that looks matter, right, Mr. Tuthill? Yes, I’m picking on him, with permission from his older brother, a former student now a municipal EMT.
Fascinating how one brother strives to care for those most in need while the other, well, you know.
But I digress. My 23andme report gives me 290 Neanderthal variants, that’s more that 74 percent of that company’s customers. Yet it makes up less than 4 percent of my DNA so, no, I don’t slide down a dinosaur’s back at the end of a workday, shouting “Yabaa Dabba Do!”
There was this one New Year’s Eve party …. Never mind.
You know, it would be fascinating to learn whether lawyers have high Neanderthal variants. It’s hard to ignore the laws of probability there, or as they themselves say, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself.)
In my case, I have zero Neanderthal variants for straight hair and – get this – zip & nada variants associated with a lower likelihood of sneezing after eating dark chocolate.
Is there something in the fossil record that Betty Rubble, that pretty primordial princess luvvved herself some dark chocolate yet never sneezed?
So, the question is, do you, Mr. Tuttle, sneeze after a bite or two of some Hershey’s or Ghirardelli’s?
Well then, res ipsa loquitur.
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.