Genes: Cue the Twilight Zone music

Re: how much genetic material we share with friends, I have been pondering how much of who we are, what we do and what we believe is hard wired ever since I read about author Bernard Cornwell's life several years ago.   He is the product of an illicit WW II romance between an Englishwoman and a Canadian airman.  He was adopted as an infant by a couple that practiced a very strict form of early 19th century religion.  Despite all their attempts to raise him in their faith, Cornwell grew up both rebellious about what he saw as a needlessly crabbed lifestyle (I recall he called practitioners of their sect charter members of the anti-fun club) and deeply skeptical about religion in general.  Years later he met his birth father, who was a religious skeptic.  It made me start to wonder: could there be a strong genetic component to who becomes faithful and who is a skeptic?  

Just this week while waiting for my car to be serviced I read a back issue of National Geographic that deepened my curiosity on this issue.  The November, 2013 cover story, The Last Chase, was about the death of tornado scientist Tim Samaras, who with his team was killed by the gigantic tornado that struck El Reno, Oklahoma in May, 2013.  This passage about Samaras's  funeral caught my attention.

Among the others who said a few words were Kathy Samaras, daughters Amy and Jennifer—and, standing alongside them, holding their hands, a 35-year-old man whom few in the audience knew.

His name was Matt Winter, and he was Tim Samaras’s other son, though he himself had learned this fact only seven years earlier. Growing up in Des Moines, the boy had maintained an odd fascination for severe weather that his parents had not nurtured. On his 11th birthday a tornado had blown through west of town; while everyone else at his birthday party had clambered into the basement, Winter pleaded to be allowed to stand outside and watch. At the age of 26 he followed National Geographic’s online coverage of Tim Samaras dropping his probes in the path of the Manchester, South Dakota, tornado. Three years later, in 2006, at a Doppler weather conference in Des Moines, he heard Samaras speak. It was after this event that Winter’s mother figured she should sit her son down and tell him about the man she used to date in Lakewood, Colorado, before either of them was married.

After that conversation, the woman called Samaras, to whom she hadn’t spoken since learning she was pregnant nearly 30 years earlier. He requested that she purchase a DNA kit. When the results came back as a 99.9 percent match, Samaras sent an email to Matt: “I want you to know that I’m very happy and proud to find out that you’re my son.” The Samaras family welcomed Matt into their home.

If you experience technical problems, please write to