25 August 2010

Colorado: Hispano DNA study results released

Tracing the Tribe readers may remember several posts concerning a cluster of "Ashkenazi" breast cancer among Hispanic women in Colorado's San Luis Valley a few years ago.

Later genealogical research showed the women were descendants of conversos (Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition) who had settled in the area centuries ago.

A paper in the San Luis area just carried an article about the results of a February 2009 DNA study on Hispanic residents in the San Luis, Alamosa, Conejos and Pueblo, by Dr. Harry Ostrer of NYU's Human Genetics Program.

Ostrer, well-known to many Jewish genealogists, collected blood samples from residents for his study. He said the project’s purpose was “to shed light on the history and ancestry of Hispanos from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado” and “to compare the DNA of Hispanos with that of other Hispanic and Latino populations in the Americas.” He was looking for a broad picture of the community's genetic heritage, not individual characteristics.

The findings:

Testing the Hispano admixture, he discovered that 50-60% were European; 30-40% Native American; 1-5% West African; and 1-5% non-European (Middle Eastern).

“The first two components of the admixture are not surprising, since the Spanish and Indian heritage of Hispanics is well known,” Dr. Ostrer stated in a letter to participants. “In fact, in May of this year, we published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the DNA of several Hispanic/Latino populations, including Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Mexicans. Our study showed that Hispanics and Latinos represent a highly diverse blend of European and Amerindian stock, with lesser contributions from African and non-European sources.”
He added that the non-European portion probably originated in the Middle East in either Arab or Jewish populations, and then brought to Spain and the Americas.

“The issue of Jewish ancestry in Hispanos remains an intriguing but unsettled question. In the next stage of our analysis we hope to learn more about that part of your heritage,” Ostrer told participants.

Ostrer and others have been involved in researching Jewish groups throughout the world and how they are related, literally. He and other researchers have concluded that “Jewishness” is not just a religious characterization but also a genetic one. “... the studied Jewish populations represent a series of geographical isolates or clusters with genetic threads that weave them together,” wrote Ostrer and others in a recent trade journal article.

“Over the past 3000 years, both the flow of genes and the flow of religious and cultural ideas have contributed to Jewishness.” - Atzmon et al, Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry, The American Journal of Human Genetics (2010).
Jews and their genetics moved throughout the world; the DNA of people in the San Luis Valley could be partly traced back to the Middle East.

“Each Diaspora group has distinctive genetic features ‘representative of each group’s genetic history,’ he [Ostrer] says, but each also ‘shares a set of common genetic threads’ dating back to their common origin in the Middle East,” Science Editor Sharon Begley wrote in a June article “The DNA of Abraham’s Children” in Newsweek.
Jews of the Diaspora, according to the Newsweek article, share genetic markers supporting the tradition that Jews around the world share a common ancestry. And Jewish populations have kept their genetic coherence in the same way as cultural and religious traditions despite their migrations from the Middle East to the world over many centuries.

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