05 May 2008

DNA: Sephardic mtDNA mapping

Readers interested in DNA studies of non-Ashkenazi populations should know about a major study just published on mtDNA (maternal DNA).

The entire paper can be found here: "Counting the Founders: The Matrilineal Genetic Ancestry of the Jewish Diaspora." It was published April 30, 2008, headed by population geneticist Dr. Doron Behar of the Molecular Medicine Laboratory, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa, Israel.

The study addresses the "mothers" of such communities as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, India, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan/Mountain Jews, Georgia and others.

On the same subject, I discovered a blog posting on the study at InteractMD.com, which offers "medical news written by doctors. Right now, medical news is written by journalists, ghostwriters, PR people. Patients, families, nurses, and even physicians are depending on newspapers and TV for the latest news on medical breakthroughs, and inevitably, errors creep in to the stories, stories are reported out of context, or important facts omitted. There has to be a better way."

One recent post concerned the mtDNA study of non-Ashkenazi populations described above. It is food for thought:

For those curious about the genetics of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora comes a new, broad-ranging study (see link above for the complete paper) about genetic similarities and differences among Jewish communities in different parts of the world.

The investigators sequenced mitochondrial DNA in 1,400 people from 14 different communities. They found that certain communities had more genetic admixture (i.e., "miscegenation") than other communities. The surprise is that certain communities had a stronger "founder effect" than others, which again suggests that there is a range of genetic integration between migrant Jewish populations and their hosts in different countries.

The investigators claim that their study, together with another one on Ashkenazic Jews, represents the whole of the Jewish population. I think the question I would most like answered is the degree to which the Torah ("Old Testament") represents the actual historical record of the Jews - are the twelve tribes of Israel real, or is that just a made up story? Can we trace our heritage back far enough to twelve original mothers? Sounds to me like there has been enough genetic mixture over the years to make that prospect almost impossible. How much modern faith would be restored in the Torah if the heritage reported there turned out to be validated by scientific techniques?


  1. Michael Benjamin3:02 PM

    You are kind to link my site--thanks for reading.
    I also had a little comment on the recent passage of Seif "the Knife", the Florida Mohel.--while not exactly Jewish genealogy, interesting to your readers.
    I am left with the perplexing conundrum of being a Kohein named Benjamin...
    Thanks again,
    Michael Benjamin, M.D.

  2. Anonymous2:34 AM

    wait, you said, trace them all back to 12 mothers? huh? that would be 4 mothers, wouldn't it? because the 12 sons of jacob/israel all came out of 4 mothers. not 12.