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Bryan Sykes, R.I.P.

7 Jan 2021 12:15 PM | Anonymous

Bryan Clifford Sykes, a British geneticist, and an Emeritus Professor of human genetics at the University of Oxford, passed away last month. He was one of the first scientists to describe the process of using DNA to research one's ethnic ancestry.

In 2001, Sykes published a book for the popular audience, The Seven Daughters of Eve, in which he explained how the dynamics of maternal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) inheritance leave their mark on the human population in the form of genetic clans sharing common maternal descent. He notes that the majority of Europeans can be classified in seven such clans, known scientifically as haplogroups, distinguishable by differences in their mtDNA that are unique to each group, with each clan descending from a separate prehistoric female-line ancestor. He referred to these seven 'clan mothers' as 'daughters of Eve', a reference to the mitochondrial Eve to whom the mtDNA of all modern humans traces.

Due to his book and his public speaking, a dozen or more "genealogy DNA companies" were formed and soon after that thousands of genealogists took DNA tests. Even this newsletter soon started writing about genealogy DNA research soon after his first book was published.

In his 2006 book, Blood of the Isles (published in the United States and Canada as Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland), Sykes examined British genetic "clans". He presented evidence from mitochondrial DNA, inherited by both sexes from their mothers, and the Y chromosome, inherited by men from their fathers.

Sykes died on 10 December 2020. His obituary may be found in The Guardian at

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