I can’t tell you how excited I was to interview Dr. Ugo Perego, a world-class DNA researcher. Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss basic DNA science, and his work on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, possible children of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, Smith’s ancestry, and Book of Mormon DNA science. He normally lives in Rome, Italy, but I was able to talk to him a few weeks ago when he came as a visiting professor at BYU. Let me introduce him to you. (audio and video found here.)
Ugo: After my mission I went to BYU. I came here to the BYU campus. That’s where we are today. I did my bachelors, my undergrad here in health sciences, and also did some other studies in scriptures and seminary teaching. I did other things when I was here. I got married. My wife is from Missouri. I lived here all my married life up to five years ago.
I worked for a large project, a worldwide project for 12 years after my schooling, for the Sorenson companies. Our objective was to collect DNA samples and link them to family history, and build a large database of correlated genealogical and genetic information, help people trace their past, their history, connect to others through DNA whenever the paper trails would not be sufficient to provide those links.
As I did the work for them during those 12 years, a byproduct of that research was a tremendous amount of data that could be used for population studies. I’ve learned more about the origin and relationship of different populations, not just individuals. We had such a variety of data in this database. During this time I had opportunity to do Ph.D. I did with professor Torroni.
For those in the field, he’s the first person that used mitochondrial DNA to identify or differentiate a group of people, populations. In fact the first group of people that he studied were Native Americans back in the early 90s. So he was my graduate advisor, my mentor. I did my Ph.D. dissertation on his suggestion. It wasn’t the actual project that I had proposed to him. I had another project in mind, but he actually wanted to take the one study that he did. It was a post-doc on Native Americans because he wanted to do that using more advanced techniques. About 20 years have elapsed between the time he did the work and the time I was doing my Ph.D. So my Ph.D. dissertation was on using this model, more advanced technique to be able to trace the origin of Native Americans through DNA.
So that’s a little bit where my studies are. I have a Ph.D. in genetics and biomolecular sciences. That was my Ph.D. dissertation. My main field is a lot. Still today whenever I have a chance I work on a side project with some of my colleagues at the university, most of the time, Native American DNA ancient or modern. We have a few publications out that have made a good impact on the area of knowledge of scholarship.
As an introduction, I asked how twins could have different ancestry? He told me of a very unusual case of twins.
We say that on average, you have 25% of each of your grandparents DNA, but you could have as little as 0% and as much as 50%. What we are talking about is average, across all the grandparents, grandchildren sets that have been tested, we see the bell curve, we see a great variety but it approaches 25% on the average. That happens even within the same family.
Now if you have identical twins, you have almost 100% of similar DNA, but if you have fraternal twins, it’s the same thing as having a brother and a sister. They each get 50%. But, there is also a proven case of a woman that had twins from two different men. All you have to do is be fertile and having two mature eggs and have sexual relations within a very short amount of time with two different men and one fertilize one egg and the other fertilize the other egg.
In our second conversation, I asked how you determine a 150 year old paternity test?
There is a different approach that you must take genetically to answer the paternity of a son versus the paternity of a daughter when it is something that happened 150 years ago. Nowadays if you suspect your child is not your child, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy, you do a paternity test. You test the mother, the father, and the child. There are certain markers, there are autosomal markers they are called, that are very unique, the combination of such can only be reproduced within a family. So either somebody is 100% not your child, or it is 99.99999% your child, which is just another way to say 100%. DNA is one notch stronger in excluding relationships than it is to include. There is always a little chance that DNA matches because of chance. But the markers that you test are so many that the reality that there is really a chance is [close to zero.]
Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss more of his paternity tests on Joseph Smith. Polygamy can be a very touchy subject. Some people are happy to learn Joseph Smith didn’t father children with other wives, but others say he would have been fulfilling a commandment to raise up seed. What are your thoughts about these paternity tests, and about Joseph fathering children with his plural wives? What do you think of Ugo’s questions in the graphic above?