Vox Tablet

On the Cancer Gene Trail

How Roman Catholics of Native American and Spanish descent became carriers of the deadly breast-cancer gene long associated with Jews

April 9, 2012
(Illustration Tablet Magazine; source images Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock)
(Illustration Tablet Magazine; source images Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock)

In 1999, a young woman in Colorado named Shonnie Medina died of breast cancer. Tests revealed that she carried a gene mutation commonly associated with Jews—yet Medina was a Hispano, meaning that her ancestry was both Native American and Spanish, with no known Jewish background. Other family members similarly turned out to be carriers of this potentially deadly gene; some have died from or been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.

How this clan of Roman Catholic Hispanos became carriers of this mutation is the subject of a new book by Jeff Wheelwright: The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA tells Medina’s tragic tale as well as the story of how one specific genetic marker could have made its way from Ancient Babylonia to the contemporary American southwest. Wheelwright joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to talk about the resilience of the breast-cancer gene, and how the Jewish Diaspora can be traced by following the appearance of the gene around the world. [Running time: 17:07.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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