Sykes, Bryan Clifford 1947-
Sykes, Bryan Clifford 1947-
PERSONAL: Born September 9, 1947, in the United Kingdom; son of Frank and Irene (Clifford) Sykes; children: Richard. Education: Eltham College, University of Liverpool, B.Sc.; University of Bristol, Ph.D.; Oxford, M.A., D.Sc. Hobbies and other interests: Chess, astronomy, and fly-fishing.
ADDRESSES: Office—Wolfson College, Oxford OX2 6UD, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Oxford University, research fellow, Wolfson College, 1984-89, lecturer in molecular pathology at Institute of Molecular Medicine, 1989-97, professor of human genetics 1997-; British House of Commons, science advisor. Chairman, Oxford Ancestors, Ltd., 2001-.
MEMBER: Athenaeum Club, London, England.
The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals our Genetic Ancestry, Bantam Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Adam's Curse: A Future without Men, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Geneticist Bryan Clifford Sykes has become as well known outside the academic world as within, thanks to his work in the field, his writings, and his business tracing genetic ancestry. He has helped bring genetic knowledge to a wider public and promote the idea of the genetic unity of all human beings.
Sykes has worked as a teacher and researcher in molecular and population genetics at Oxford University since 1984. His first edited book, published in 1999, was a typically academic project, though aimed at a broader educated audience too. The Human Inheritance: Genes, Language, and Evolution, was writings by academic specialists, examines how molecular genetics might be able to help uncover the prehistory of the human race, when used together with archeology and historical linguistics. It deals with such controversial issues as the date of the first migration to the Americas and the Pacific Islands, the relationship, if any, between language and ethnicity, and the possibility that Neanderthals may have contributed to the human gene pool.
Sykes had already attracted public attention in the field. In the 1990s, according to Alexander Henriksen and Matjaz Krivic in Geographical, his genetic evaluation of 1,200 people in China, Taiwan, the Phillipines, Melanesia, and Polynesia helped confirm theories of eastward migration, and weakened the case for migration from South America. Due to his advances in techniques for tracking evolution in mitochondrial DNA, Sykes was called in to evaluate the lineage of "Otzi," the 5,000-year-old frozen corpse discovered in 1991 buried in a glacier in the Austrian Alps. Sykes determined that the man belonged to the most common DNA group found in Europeans today. He also helped identify the remains of the Romanovs, the royal family murdered in Russia several years after the 1917 revolution.
Sykes's interest in historical genetics resulted in his book The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals our Genetic Ancestry. The book, an international best-seller, reports on a variety of genetichistorical findings, one of the most dramatic if which is the argument that 95 percent of the current population of Europe and the Middle East descended from one of seven women who lived between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago. Michael J. R. Jose wrote in AllReaders.com, "Sykes makes a very good writer, explaining the science in a painless way and with the right number of diagrams…. Along the way he also explains the recent history of advances in genetic science to which he has contributed greatly." James Meek, writing in the Manchester Guardian, was more skeptical of the book's main thesis; he wrote, "The latest research may even undermine the central theme of the book." Meek pointed to a paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics that "comes up with the rather less magical figure of 11 [female ancestors] representing only 76 percent of present-day Europeans."
Adam's Curse: A Future without Men pursues another dramatic theory: that human males are becoming increasingly infertile, and will no longer be able to reproduce naturally within 125,000 years. Sykes claims that the Y chromosome, which only males possess, has been steadily deteriorating over millions of years, largely because it is the only chromosome that exists in only one copy in each individual and thus cannot easily be repaired when harmful mutations appear. According to Science News, Sykes also "draws links between greed, violence, and aggression in men and their genetics. He also offers a genetic explanation for homosexuality." Priya Shetty wrote in the Lancet that Sykes is adept at translating genetic techniques with great clarity, but his real talent is a way with words that makes for truly enjoyable reading." However, Shetty warned that Sykes "treads a fine line between science fact and fiction," and may approach "anthropomorphism" in his depiction of the role in evolution of the Y chromosome and mitrochondrial DNA.
With the help of Oxford, Sykes has begun to commercialize his findings in historical DNA, via a company called Oxford Ancestors. Customers who send a tissue swab can learn about their paternal and maternal ancestry, and fit their own history into the human story told in Sykes's books.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2001, Vanessa Bush, review of The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals our Genetic Ancestry, p. 1810.
Geographical, March, 2004, Alexander Henriksen, Matjaz Krivic, "Easter Island: Enigma of the Stone Statues," p. 42.
Kliatt, September, 2002, Januet Julian, review of The Seven Daughters of Eve, p. 42; March, 2003, Nancy Chaplin, review of The Seven Daughters of Eve (audiobook), p. 66.
Lancet, February 14, 2004, Priya Shetty, review of Adam's Curse: A Future without Men, p. 578.
Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Ann Forister, review of The Seven Daughters of Eve, p. 221; August, 2003, I. Pour-El, review of The Seven Daughters of Eve (audiobook), p. 153.
New York Times, June 8, 2004, Claudia Dreifus, "Is Genghis Khan an Ancestor? Mr. DNA Knows" (interview), p. F2.
O, The Oprah Magazine, April, 2004, Francine Prose, review of Adam's Curse, p. 170.
Popular Science, January 1, 2004, Elizabeth Svoboda, review of Adam's Curse, p. 94.
Publishers Weekly, June 11, 2001, review of The Seven Daughters of Eve, p. 72; March 15, 2004, review of Adam's Curse, p. 65.
Science, August 18, 1995, Nigel Williams, "The Trials and Tribulations of Cracking the Prehistoric Code," p. 923.
Science News, June 5, 2004, review of Adam's Curse, p. 367.
Spectator, September 13, 2003, Donald Michie, review of Adam's Curse, p. 9.
U.S. News & World Report, May 3, 2004, Thomas Hayden, "The Irrelevant Man," p. 1.
BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (June, 2001), "Surnames, Genes, and Genealogy."
Guardian Online, http://education.guardian.co.uk/ (June 11, 2001), James Meek, interview with Sykes.
Oxford Science Enterprise Centre Web site, http://www.science-enterprise.ox.ac.uk/ (October, 2004).