It’s all relative – a modern man from Cheddar, England, along with about 1% of all English people, have the same DNA makeup as that gotten from the teeth of a 9,000-year-old skelton found in a nearby cave

It’s all relative – a modern man from Cheddar, England, along with about 1% of all English people, have the same DNA makeup as that gotten from the teeth of a 9,000-year-old skelton found in a nearby cave – Brief Article

Geri Clark

How far back can you trace your family tree? If you were Adrian Targett, you could go back 300 generations!

Scientists have discovered that Targett is a direct descendant of Cheddar Man, the name given to a 9,000-year-old skeleton found in a cave in the town of Cheddar, England. (Yes, where they make the cheese!) “I’ve been in the cave a few times,” says Targett, “but I never realized it was home.”

Cheddar Man was discovered in 1903, but scientists only recently decided to test whether he had any modern relatives nearby. First they took DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, the material that determines a person’s genetic makeup) from the skeleton’s teeth. Then they took DNA from skin cells of people whose families had lived in town for a long time. When the scientists compared Cheddar Man’s DNA with Targett’s DNA, they found the two men were related.

How do the scientists know this? DNA is composed of many smaller units known as bases (nitrogen molecules called adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine). The way the bases are arranged determines a person’s genetic traits. People with similar base sequences are likely to be related.

The DNA drawn from Cheddar Man came from a part of the cell called the mitochondria, which produces energy for the cell. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother. So scientists know that Cheddar Man and Targett are related on their mothers’ sides.

Cheddar Man has other living descendants besides Targett. Probably 1 percent of all people in England share Cheddar Man’s DNA. Of course, it would be a big job to find them all.

“We all have 9,000-year-old ancestors,” Targett says. “I just happen to know who mine was.”

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