About Oxford Ancestors

Our Background

Oxford Ancestors began in 2000 in Professor Sykes' university laboratory following press coverage of his research into mitochondrial DNA and the genetics of human evolution. This showed, among other things, that almost everyone in Europe is maternally descended from one of seven female ancestors. Following the publication of his book on the discovery 'The Seven Daughters of Eve' in 2001 the demand from members of the public for DNA tests to identify descendants of these ancestral women soon outstripped the capacity of the laboratory and the Oxford Ancestors Ltd was incorporated as an official University of Oxford 'spin-off'.

By then, Oxford Ancestors also offered Y-chromosome tests to follow the equivalent paternal line after Prof Sykes' laboratory had uncovered the surprisingly close association between surnames and Y-chromosomes, a connection which was soon enthusiastically taken up by genealogists.

As demand for our services grew, we moved into a succession of premises around Oxford. We remain close to Prof Sykes' academic research and, as the science has developed, we have added new services, such as our 'Tribes of Britain' test where customers with roots in Britain or Ireland can learn whether their ancestors were likely to have been Vikings, Saxons or Celts.

Though we are well aware you have a choice and we are confident that you will appreciate the unrivalled scientific credentials that Oxford Ancestors has to offer when choosing whom to entrust with analysis of the most precious gift from your ancestors - your DNA.

Professor Bryan Sykes

Bryan has been a Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford since 1997 and is a Fellow of Wolfson College. After discovering how to extract DNA from human fossils, his research has used genetics to explore many aspects of human evolution particularly as revealed by mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes. His six books on genetics 'The Seven Daughters of Eve', 'Adam's Curse', 'Blood of the Isles', 'DNA USA', 'The Nature of the Beast' and most recently 'Once a Wolf' are all written with the general reader in mind.

When not in Oxford, Bryan and his wife Ulla, a Danish painter, live on the Isle of Skye off the northwest coast of Scotland.
Over the past thirty years, I have been fascinated by the way in which our DNA is a record of the past which each of us carries within our cells. This started when archaeologist Robert Hedges and I managed to get tiny amounts of DNA from fossil bones. It was was minor miracle that any DNA survived, but it did. Attention shifted to getting DNA from living people but it was only when I found exactly the same DNA in a famous fossil, Oetzi also known as the Iceman, and a friend of mine from Bournemouth that I realised that this connection was a very fundamental one, far beyond the purely scientific. She felt it very deeply and was intensely curious about him, even though they were separated in time by at least five thousand years.

In later years much has changed and improved in our ability to analyse DNA but the underlying magic remains. We realise now that DNA is very stable and relatively unchanging with all of us being descended from just a handful of women. On the male side DNA follows surname ancestry, more or less, but not so closely. After all, mother and baby are both there at the birth, but the father is sometimes absent.

While many of us know our back a generation or two, our DNA goes back far further. This is the living thread which delves into our distant past and which Oxford Ancestors will reveal.

The Team

Sue Foden
Non-Executive Director
After gaining MA and DPhil degrees from Oxford, Sue's career has taken her through positions in Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Venture Capital. Sue joined the Board of Oxford Ancestors in 2001 and is currently a non-executive director of several UK biotech companies. She lives in Oxford.
William James
Non-Executive Director
William is Professor of Virology at the University of Oxford and an expert on HIV/Aids. Like Sue Foden, he joined the Oxford Ancestors Board in 2001. He also represents the University in some of its other spin-out companies and has beeb a Pro-ViceChancelior. In 2017 William was appointed as our Head of Talent.
Robin Roberts-Gant
Robin was born in London. His career started off in design and printing and graduated into computing where he could combine both passions. He joined the staff of the University of Oxford in 1997 where he now runs a production unit specialising in image manipulation, typesetting and design. He lives with his family in north Oxfordshire.