Genetic code for humour

Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences making intriguing study of genes in Gomel Region’s Bolshie and Malye Avtyuki villages

By Boris Yuferovsky

The villages of Bolshie Avtyuki and Malye Avtyuki are well-known for hosting national festivals of satire and humour — as initiated by Belarusian writer Vladimir Lipsky. In fact, the villagers seem to have their own unique brand of wit. They call a saw ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ and have a wealth of other amusing sayings — as explored in Mr. Lipsky’s book, which features 650 such phrases from the two villages.

From where do Avtyuki residents originate and how did they arrive in the Gomel Region’s Kalinkovichi District? Research continues but, in the early 20th century, Belarusian ethnographer and folklorist Isaak Serbov wrote about local Polesie residents in his Trips through Polesie from 1911-1912. He noted: ‘Standing out in their appearance and pronunciation from neighbouring people, they are of an extremely interesting ethnographic type. Avtyuki villagers are primarily Southern, having dark hair and medium height, with attractive figures. They speak in tongue-twisters, with a Southern-Russian accent, cutting words abruptly’

The Belarusian National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Genetics and Cytology has been looking into the genetics of Avtyuki villagers. The Y-chromosome (inherited exclusively from father to son without being mixed with the mother’s genetic material) allows us to track the origin of any person. Of 27 Avtyuki men taking part in the study, 22 had similar Y-chromosomes; if we select out of these all with a shared family name, we find that all are related, albeit remotely, through parental lineage.

Further studies are needed but it’s currently thought that the Avtyuki family originates from a small group of men who resettled in the village from a neighbouring region of Belarus or Ukraine — most probably, from Western Polesie. For various reasons, residents became isolated from neighbouring territories, resulting in their differing Y-chromosome.

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