July 20, 2010

Mystery as Nigerian couple gives birth to white baby in UK

Ben & Angela Ihegboro with baby Nmachi

LONDON—A BLACKcouple, Ben and Angela Ihegboro, has amazed genetics experts, as their newly born baby, Nmanchi, is a white, blue-eyed blonde.

The couple, of Woolwich, south London, have two other children: four-year-old, Chisom, and sister, Dumebi, 2.

According to a report in the Sun of London, Ben, 44, a railway customer services adviser, said: he and his wife just sat there after the birth staring at her for ages – not saying anything.

parents with newborn Nmachi with other children; Dumebi and Chisom

He said: “In

“The first thing I said was ‘What the flip?’, he recalled. Ben added later that: “Of course, she’s mine. My wife is true to me. Even if she hadn’t been, the baby still wouldn’t look like that.”

Nmachi, whose name means “Beauty of God” in Nigerian parlance, was born at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, where doctors there told them she is not an albino.

Ben, who went to Britain with Angela five years ago and works with South Eastern trains said: “She doesn’t look like an albino child anyway – not like the ones I’ve seen back in Nigeria or in books. She just looks like a healthy white baby.”

He went on: “My mum is a black Nigerian although she has a bit fairer skin than mine.”

Angela, 35, declared that Nmachi’s colour doesn’t matter. “She’s a miracle baby. But still, what on earth happened here?  However, the child has baffled the genetics experts because neither Ben nor wife Angela has any mixed-race family history.

We don’t know of any white ancestry. We wondered if it was a genetic twist. But even then, what’s with the long curly blonde hair?”

DNA test to verify paternity

Chisom, the couple’s four-year-old son, was quoted as remarking: “We are a black family. Suddenly we have a white sister.” Ben also noted “We are baffled too and want to know what happened, but we understand life is very strange.”

It was not immediately made clear whether or not a DNA test was done to verify her paternity.  Often described as a “fingerprint,” DNA is more comparable to a “body print” inclusive of internal workings and future traits and is often almost 100 percent exact.

However, Prof. Bryan Sykes, Head of Human Genetics at Oxford University and Britain’s leading expert, called the birth “extraordinary” He said: “In mixed race humans, the lighter variant of skin tone may come out in a child – and this can sometimes be startlingly different to the skin of the parents.

This might be the case where there is a lot of genetic mixing, as in Afro-Caribbean populations. But in Nigeria there is little mixing.”

Sykes said both parents would have needed “some form of white ancestry” for a pale version of their genes to be passed on. He added: “The hair is extremely unusual.

Even many blonde children don’t have blonde hair like this at birth.” The expert said some unknown mutation was the most likely explanation. “The rules of genetics are complex and we still don’t understand what happens in many cases.”

Genetic mutation

Other experts, however, propose that some form of unknown racial or genetic mutation was the most likely explanation for Nmachi’s colour. A genetic expert,

Dr. Rick Kittles who runs a  genetic tracing company, African Ancestry Inc.,

described “race” as white or black, and more of a social concept than a real biological concept.”

In his words: “Race is based on two things: skin colour and ancestry. You can’t really (see) somebody’s ancestry, but you can tell their skin colour.” According to him, while physical features are determined by a small number of genes, genes do not determine race specifically.

Kittles feels strongly that race and ethnicity are separate. He argues that genes determining physical features do not determine internal makeup or predisposition to certain diseases.

Kittles who had always been interested in genetics in African populations started working on collecting data many years ago and his from studies determined that three out of 10 African men had European genetic heritages.

Up to 85 percent of Kittles’ African Ancestry’s clients are an exact match with ethnic groups in the database. The other 15 percent are closely related.