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Television documentary featuring work of Leicester geneticist wins top award

A television programme that prominently featured the research of a University of Leicester academic has won an award from the Royal Television Society.

Takeaway Media's Motherland, a Genetic Journey walked away with the Best Science and Natural History award. The judges praised the exceptional use of science - "used not predominantly to explore race but rather to find family history."

The documentary, recently repeated on the BBC, also won the One World Media Awards 2003 for Best TV Documentary cited for its "outstanding contribution to greater world understanding."

The programme, about the roots of Black Britons, featured the work of Dr Mark Jobling of the Department of Genetics, and included scenes shot at the University.

Dr Jobling found that more than a quarter of British African-Caribbean men have a Y chromosome (passed from father to son) which traces back to Europe rather than Africa. In contrast it was found that only around 2% of British African-Caribbeans have mitochondrial DNA (passed from mother to child) which traces to Europe.

[Phot: Dr Mark Jobling]
Documentary featuring the work of Dr Mark Jobling has won top award from the Royal Television Society
[Photo: Documentary still of Motherland]
Award winning documentary - Motherland
Image: Andrew Hasson, Takeaway Media
Mark Jobling said of his findings: "This really reflects the sexual politics of the situation of slavery. This was a power relationship between these two populations and in that power relationship it was European men who were having sex with African women."

As well as looking at the origins of the population as a whole, the 228 participants were given individual information about their ancestors. The most striking success of the study was to 'reunite' an African-Caribbean woman from Bristol with living African relatives on a tiny island off the coast of Cameroon.

The value of this kind of study for African-Caribbeans in particular is that the different cultures, languages and ethnicities of their ancestors were lost in the slave trade, in a system that treated them as commodities rather than people. DNA evidence offers some hope of reconnecting these people to their roots. The study also raises some concerning issues, however; Mark Jobling points out that 'in using mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosomes to trace someone's roots we are 
focusing on only one ancestor out of very many, which can be misleading. 

Also, commercial companies are now offering these ancestry services, so we need to be sure that they provide reasonable interpretations of results, and maybe even counselling for people who find some of the implications difficult to deal with.

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Last updated: 2 April 2004 15:00
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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