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Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Institute of Genetics and Cancer

A blog for our community to write about their interests and to share their stories.

VIKING Genes – a hamefarin

VIKING II LogoBack in March, I wrote an article for an online DNA magazine to help push the message that VIKING II, the fastest growing Viking genetics study in the UK, was looking for volunteers.  It was a call to arms by study leader, Professor Jim Flett Wilson of Edinburgh University.

Little did I know, six months later I would be working directly for the study and be part of the VIKING Genes team itself.

VIKING II is a study looking at the genetics and health of volunteers with at least two grandparents from Orkney or Shetland. The aim is to better understand what might cause diseases such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and many more conditions which blight people’s lives on daily basis.

Sample kit

The research teams behind Orkney Complex Disease Study (ORCADES) and the VIKING Health Study – Shetland (VIKING) are the team supporting the study. They’re based at the University of Edinburgh, at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine and the Usher Institute.

This was all made possible thanks to Medical Research Council (MRC) funding.

The aim of VIKING II is to recruit 4,000 participants, matching the previous figure from VIKING Genes studies. The team believes the “unique genetic identity” of those with Northern Isles ancestry offers a “rare opportunity” to give a detailed picture on how genes are implicated in health. Studies in isolated populations, like Orkney and Shetland, have a number of advantages for identifying genes, including the ability to use information on the inheritance of variants through a family.


So where did I fit in and how did I become involved?

My relationship with the Northern Isles of Scotland goes back at least two decades. A Sinclair with ancestry in the isles, my first knowledge of Orkney led me to thumb through dusty old books back to the days of Norwegian rule, when the Sinclair family briefly held the earldom itself.

These isles are far important than pages in history books. The landscape, the flora and the fauna; the Northern Isles are also the people. Their way of life, the traditions and most importantly, what makes them unique? Their genetic code reads like a history book, offering a glimpse into the pages still to come.

Like many of our volunteers who weren’t born on the isles, the sheer pull of origin leads to a deep reverb of romanticism and a feeling of homecoming; or as they say in the isles ‘hamefarin’.

For me, my homecoming was through DNA, and the opportunity I was given to work on numerous citizen science DNA projects as an administrator and researcher.


So what is my role within VIKING II?

VIKING Genes Team photoMy main role is to support IT consultant and data manager, David Buchanan. After a short spell working on Edinburgh University’s Coronagenes database for David, I was tasked with chasing samples for VIKING II.

When the Covid outbreak hit the UK in March 2020, the VIKING II study was just gathering pace. Like many industries, they too suffered a downturn during the first lockdown. Naturally, many participants felt unable to return their samples, so they remained  unreturned.

When I joined VIKING II in September, my job was to engage and see if our volunteers were now ready to return their samples, or simply needed a new kit because it was lost in the post during the pandemic.

This kind of work I absolutely love. During my time as an administrator for DNA studies, including the Family Tree DNA Orkney and Shetland projects, which I run for Professor Wilson, I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with many people around the globe; to make the process of taking a DNA test less daunting and far more rewarding.

Data protection has always been at the forefront of many communications, and it is important to stress that we handle all data with extreme sensitivity.

VIKING II has been a wonderful opportunity for many people of Northern Isles origin to make the greatest contribution, through their DNA. We invest in the next generation through education, and VIKING II goes one step further, by investing in the health of this generation and those to come.

If you haven’t already done so, and you fulfil the criteria of having at least two grandparents from Orkney or Shetland, please join VIKING II today.


Craig Sinclair


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