21 July 2009

DNA: The wandering Jew

A gene-mapping project of the "wandering Jew" has been launched by Israel's Sheba Medical Center and New York University.

The 18-month to two-year project is headed by Prof. Harry Ostrer, NYU Medical School's human genetics program director, who is recognized as an expert in the Jewish people's origins, and by Prof. Eitan Friedman of Sheba's clinical genetics unit.

The project will attempt to trace Jewish migration to and from Israel and in the Diaspora, according to the Jerusalem Post article. It may also be used in the future for specific genes for Jewish genetic conditions.

Volunteers whose parents and grandparents have the same ethnic origins - including Yemenites, Iraqis, Moroccans, Libyans, Ethiopians, Indians, Georgians, Bnei Menashe, Bukharans and others regarded as close to the Jews, such as Karaites - are being invited to give blood samples and fill out a short questionnaire. So far, 120 samples have been collected, but about 180 more are
It is called the "Jewish HapMap" project. Hap, in this instance, comes from haplotype - a term familiar to Jewish genealogists involved in genetic testing for genealogical purposes -. which is a group of closely linked genetic markers located on a single chromosome and inherited.

Sheba is collecting blood samples from Oriental, Sephardi or other non-Ashkenazi origin Jews, while Ostrer is collecting data from Ashkenazi Jews as well as Syrian and Iranian Jews. In fact, just a few months ago, Ostrer told me that he had collected many Iranian samples at a meeting in Great Neck, NY.

Friedman says it is a last chance to do this research, due to intermarriage among Jews of diverse ethnic origins and intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

Today, about 50 percent to 60% of Israelis are eligible to participate based on their background, but in another generation, that figure could decline to around 20%, the Israeli geneticist said. "We are studying normal genes, not mutations, to see what the various ethnic groups have in common and how much admixture there was," he said.
The project is funded by the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation; a major research article will follow the study's completion.

Volunteers give about a tablespoon of blood, which will be kept under lock and key. Participants will receive a summary of the research but only on the collective research, not their individual genomes.

Since 2002, according to the paper, there has been an Israeli law preventing employers, health funds and others from discriminating against those with genetic mutations,

The data will be computerized and compared among various Jewish ethnic groups, and between those Jews and non-Jews of the same geographical region.

I wish everyone volunteering in the study would also provide samples to FamilyTreeDNA.com to provide more data for the company's extensive comparative Jewish DNA databases.


  1. can't wait for this to come out!

  2. why only 300 samples? shouldn't they shoot for a higher number?

  3. Sounds great! Doesn't Family Tree DNA
    already have reams of Jewish DNA data for this project? Will they work together?

  4. Hi, M.

    In a perfect world, that would happen. We can hope that the results may eventually wind up at FTDNA. However, the individual participant results of university studies, such as this, are not usually shared, which is unfortunate - at least in the eyes of genetic genealogists. The volunteer participants themselves won't even receive their individual results! This is one reason why such communities need to be encouraged to also test with FamilyTreeDNA to add to general and specific knowledge that will help individuals to connect.