Data Shows That Environment>Genetics and That the World Is Shrinking

Fascinating is the only word to describe this type of research and what it is finding.

Computational biologist Yaniv Erlich of Columbia University in New York City and his colleagues have used crowdsourced data (from an online genealogy tool, Geni.com) to make a family tree that links 13 million people. The ancestry chart, described in Science, is believed to be the largest verified resource of its kind — spanning an average of 11 generations.

The team then analyzed the data and found some interesting results:

  • Heredity explains only about 16% of the difference in lifespans for these individuals. Most of the differences were down to other factors, such as where and how people lived. In other words, environment matters more than your genes.
  • Erlich says that “good” genes might extend a person’s life by an average of five years. Some environmental factors make a much bigger impact on longevity; smoking, for instance, can subtract ten years.

Erlich’s team also used the data to analyse the migration and marriage patterns of people listed on Geni, again with some interesting findings:

  • Before 1750, the researchers found, most Americans and Europeans in the database married someone who lived at most 10 kilometres (6 miles) from their birthplace.
  • By 1950, most Americans and Europeans had to travel at least 100 kilometres (60 miles) from their home towns to find a spouse.
  • And using my parents as an example (surely an outlier), my mom traveled over 5,000 kilometres from Ireland to Philadelphia where she met my dad.

Clearly distance is becoming less and less meaningful in terms of relationships; the world is a much more connected place, and will continue to become even more connected, both physically and virtually.

In my opinion, that is a good thing, a really good thing.

And there’s no point in trying to stop it from becoming so interconnected, as some people would seem to prefer.

I look forward to more findings from this humongous data set; I am sure there is much to be learned.

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