Sunday, April 28, 2013

Common Genetic Threads Link Thousands of Years of Jewish Ancestry.

Common Genetic Threads Link Thousands of Years of Jewish Ancestry. ScienceDaily, June 4, 2010.

Studies Show Jews’ Genetic Similarity. By Nicholas Wade. New York Times, June 9, 2010.

Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry. By Gil Atzmon et al. The American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 86, No. 6 (June 2010). Also find it here.


For more than a century, Jews and non-Jews alike have tried to define the relatedness of contemporary Jewish people. Previous genetic studies of blood group and serum markers suggested that Jewish groups had Middle Eastern origin with greater genetic similarity between paired Jewish populations. However, these and successor studies of monoallelic Y chromosomal and mitochondrial genetic markers did not resolve the issues of within and between-group Jewish genetic identity. Here, genome-wide analysis of seven Jewish groups (Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Ashkenazi) and comparison with non-Jewish groups demonstrated distinctive Jewish population clusters, each with shared Middle Eastern ancestry, proximity to contemporary Middle Eastern populations, and variable degrees of European and North African admixture. Two major groups were identified by principal component, phylogenetic, and identity by descent (IBD) analysis: Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews. The IBD segment sharing and the proximity of European Jews to each other and to southern European populations suggested similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry. Rapid decay of IBD in Ashkenazi Jewish genomes was consistent with a severe bottleneck followed by large expansion, such as occurred with the so-called demographic miracle of population expansion from 50,000 people at the beginning of the 15th century to 5,000,000 people at the beginning of the 19th century. Thus, this study demonstrates that European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD genetic threads.


Jews originated as a national and religious group in the Middle East during the second millennium BCE and have maintained continuous genetic, cultural, and religious traditions since that time, despite a series of Diasporas. Middle Eastern (Iranian and Iraqi) Jews date from communities that were formed in the Babylon and Persian Empires in the fourth to sixth centuries BCE. Jewish communities in the Balkans, Italy, North Africa, and Syria were formed during classical antiquity and then admixed with Sephardic Jews who migrated after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century. Ashkenazi Jews are thought to have settled in the Rhine Valley during the first millennium of the Common Era, then to have migrated into Eastern Europe between the 11th and 15th centuries, although alternative theories involving descent from Sorbs (Slavic speakers in Germany) and Khazars have also been proposed. Admixture with surrounding populations had an early role in shaping world Jewry, but, during the past 2000 years, may have been limited by religious law as Judaism evolved from a proselytizing to an inward-looking religion.

Earlier genetic studies on blood groups and serum markers suggested that Jewish Diaspora populations had Middle Eastern origin, with greater genetic similarity between paired Jewish populations than with non-Jewish populations. These studies differed in their interpretation of the degree of admixture with local populations. Recent studies of Y chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have pointed to founder effects of both Middle Eastern and local origin, yet the issue of how to characterize Jewish people as mere coreligionists or as genetic isolates that may be closely or loosely related remains unresolved. To improve the understanding about the relatedness of contemporary Jewish groups, genome-wide analysis and comparison with neighboring populations was performed for representatives of three major groups of the Jewish Diaspora: Eastern European Ashkenazim; Italian, Greek, and Turkish Sephardim; and Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian Mizrahim (Middle Easterners).

Analysis of Ashkenazi Jewish Genomes Reveals Diversity, History. By Quinn Eastman. ScienceDaily, August 27, 2010.

Signatures of founder effects, admixture and selection in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. By Steven M. Bray et al. PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 37 (September 14, 2010). PDF. Also find it here.

New Study Sheds Light On the Origin of the European Jewish Population. ScienceDaily, January 16, 2013.

The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses. By Eran Elhaik. Genome Biology and Evolution, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2013). PDF. Also find it here.


The question of Jewish ancestry has been the subject of controversy for over two centuries and has yet to be resolved. The “Rhineland hypothesis” depicts Eastern European Jews as a “population isolate” that emerged from a small group of German Jews who migrated eastward and expanded rapidly. Alternatively, the “Khazarian hypothesis” suggests that Eastern European Jews descended from the Khazars, an amalgam of Turkic clans that settled the Caucasus in the early centuries CE and converted to Judaism in the 8th century. Mesopotamian and Greco–Roman Jews continuously reinforced the Judaized empire until the 13th century. Following the collapse of their empire, the Judeo–Khazars fled to Eastern Europe. The rise of European Jewry is therefore explained by the contribution of the Judeo–Khazars. Thus far, however, the Khazars’ contribution has been estimated only empirically, as the absence of genome-wide data from Caucasus populations precluded testing the Khazarian hypothesis. Recent sequencing of modern Caucasus populations prompted us to revisit the Khazarian hypothesis and compare it with the Rhineland hypothesis. We applied a wide range of population genetic analyses to compare these two hypotheses. Our findings support the Khazarian hypothesis and portray the European Jewish genome as a mosaic of Near Eastern-Caucasus, European, and Semitic ancestries, thereby consolidating previous contradictory reports of Jewish ancestry. We further describe a major difference among Caucasus populations explained by the early presence of Judeans in the Southern and Central Caucasus. Our results have important implications for the demographic forces that shaped the genetic diversity in the Caucasus and for medical studies.

Highlight: Out of Khazaria—Evidence for “Jewish Genome” Lacking. By Danielle Venton. Genome Biology and Evolution, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2013). PDF. Also find it here.

The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people. By Doron M. Behar et al. Nature, Vol. 466, July 8, 2010.

Nearly Half Of Ashkenazi Jews Descended From Four “Founding Mothers.” ScienceDaily, January 17, 2006.

New Light on the Origins of Ashkenazi in Europe. By Nicholas Wade. New York Times, January 14, 2006. Also here.

The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a Recent Founder Event. By Doron M. Behar et al. The American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 78, No. 3 (March 2006).

Founding Mothers of Jewish Communities: Geographically Separated Jewish Groups Were Independently Founded by Very Few Female Ancestors. By Mark G. Thomas et al. The American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 70, No. 6 (June 2002).

Jewish Priesthood Has Multiple Lineages, New Genetic Research Indicates. ScienceDaily, September 25, 2009.

Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique lineages of the Jewish priesthood. By Michael F. Hammer et al. Human Genetics, Vol. 126, No. 5 (November 2009).

Origins of Old Testament Priests. By Mark G. Thomas et al. Nature, Vol. 394, July 9, 1998. Also find it here.

Y Chromosomes of Jewish Priests. By Karl Skorecki et al. Nature, Vol. 385, January 2, 1997.

Y-chromosomal Aaron. Wikipedia. With links to some journal article sources.

Israelites. Wikipedia.

The Origin of Palestinians and Their Genetic Relatedness With Other Mediterranean Populations. By Antonio Arnaiz-Villena et al. Human Immunology, Vol. 62, No. 9 (September 2001). Also here and here.

High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic substructure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews. By Almut Nebel et al. Human Genetics, Vol. 107, No. 6 (December 2000).

The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East. By Almut Nebel et al. American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol. 69, No. 5 (November 2001).

Journal axes gene research on Jews and Palestinians. By Robin McKie. The Observer., November 25, 2001.

Politicizing Science: The Genetic Code of Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Muslims. By Pamela Geller. Atlas Shrugs, February 26, 2010.

Illegal knowledge: Palestinians and Jews are relatives. By Benno Hansen. Newsvine, September 3, 2006.

The Cana’anite Factor: (Un) Defining Religious Identities in Palestine and Israel. By Basem L. Ra’ad. Palestine-Israel Journal, Vols. 8/9, Nos. 4/1 (2002). Also here.