Viking In The Blood? Volunteers Needed For DNA Tests In Newcastle

By David Prudames | 07 December 2005
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photograph of a man dressed as a Viking

A familiar look? Could it be your dad's got a bit of Viking in him?

Predisposed towards battleaxes, but never understood why? The answer maybe in your genes.

On Sunday December 11 2005, volunteers willing to spare a little blood will be able to join in a nationwide project that aims to find out how many of us has a little Viking, Saxon, Angle, Celt, Jute, Roman or Norman in them.

The event at Newcastle’s Life Science Centre is being run by the production company behind a new Channel 4 television series investigating the genetic heritage of our population.

Tracking the progress of the Oxford University-run People of the British Isles project, the series will look for the biological influence of ancient colonisers of the UK.

"We've had a great response so far - so many people are fascinated by their heritage and the secrets it may hold," explained Dr Caroline Relton, senior research associate at Newcastle University and member of the project team.

"However, it's important that we get lots of samples from around the region to analyse and we're still keen to welcome more volunteers along on Sunday."

Shows a photo of men dressed as Roman soldiers wearing armour, helmets and carrying spears and shields.

Successive waves of colonisers, such as these Romans from Segedunum in the north east, have left a biological as well as physical legacy in Britain. Courtesy Tyne and Wear Museums.

Volunteers will need to be aged 18 or over and should be able to trace both sides of their family back for at least two generations in the same rural area. Counties covered include Cumbria, County Durham, Northumberland, Tyneside, Teesside and the Scottish Borders.

Each volunteer will be required to donate a blood sample, which will be analysed for the secrets locked within its DNA.

The results will then be subject to further analysis to show who the region's ancestors were. That information will then become one of many elements used in the forthcoming tv series to make ancient Britain relevant today.

DNA UK will air in autumn 2006 in a number of parts, each focusing on a region such as Lincolnshire and East Anglia, Kent and Sussex, Wales and the south west, Northern Ireland and of course the north east and Scotland.

Sorrel May, Associate Producer for Wag TV (the company making the series), told the 24 Hour Museum that a key element of the programmes will be in helping people connect with their ancient heritage.

"If we can say your area has a really high percentage of Viking ancentry," she said, "it kind of brings it to life."

colour photo of the south entrance of the life science museum with a large yellow wall on the right and a framework roof and a sloped blue wall on the left

The event on Sunday December 11 2005 takes place in the conference centre at Newcastle's Life Science Centre. Courtesy Life Science Centre.

The "backbone" of the series, as Sorrel described it, is the People of the British Isles project, a pioneering £2.3 million initiative funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Led by cancer and population geneticist Professor Sir Walter Bodmer of Oxford University, it seeks to decipher the genetic structure of the UK. Despite the historical element, the primary concern is to create a tool for researchers tracking down genes associated with common diseases.

Newcastle University's Institute of Human Genetics is managing the project in the north and staff will be at the event on December 11 at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle.

While this particular event is for people from the north east, those from outside the area still wanting to participate can do.

Further events are planned in other parts of the country, while individual representations are welcomed by the project team.

Full details, as well as more information about the project, can be found on the People of the British Isles website (opens in another window).

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: