More Jews, fewer markers

By Razib Khan | July 16, 2010 11:43 am

At around the same time that the two big Jewish genetics papers came out, there was another one in BMC Genetics which I had overlooked. It’s open access so you can read the whole thing, but seems like they used 32 STR‘s as markers. Their primary finding about Jewish populations was that there was a north vs. south distinction, illustrated in this map:


Update: The main author sent me this email:

Hi, I’m the main author of the paper. Although the map (figure 2 from the paper) does depict differences in the northern vs southern assignment values for a subset of the samples in our study, it does not tell the whole story which might be helped by figure 1. The map figure is based only on subjects who had all 4 grandparents from a single country while the STRUCTURE figures (figure 1) are based on all subjects. There were two main points to the paper. 1. There is a difference, on average, between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish gene pools and 2. It was only possible to detect this with a small marker panel when hypothetical ancestral or “host” populations were included in the analysis.
In the absence of representative major continental populations, the Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish populations were not distinguishable with the small set of markers. I believe that the dependence of ancestry assignment on which markers and which reference populations are included in an analysis has been mentioned a few times by Razib. This is relevant to the way in which certain gene mapping studies are carried out. For medical genetics studies it is important to know if subjects are from the same population or not; if they are not it can lead to false positive results. Jewish populations are heavily studied in medical research and so we wanted to demonstrate that Jewish populations from different parts of the world should not be lumped together for analysis in medical genetic studies.

Based on published mtDNA and y-chromosome studies as well as historical records we assume that the “”Southern” component of ancestry is Middle Eastern in origin and that differences between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi populations are due to both genetic drift and differences between the populations that contributed to the Jewish gene pools in a given location.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics
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  • VG

    Interesting that there seems to be a stronger Asian element in Germany than further east.

  • toto

    Isn’t that in contradiction with one of the previous papers, which insisted on the relative unity of Sefarades and Ashkenazis, in opposition to Eastern (“Mizrahi”) Jews?

  • Razib Khan

    toto, looks like it to me.

  • Ponto

    There is too much on Jews especially the people everyone including themselves think are real authentic, Middle Eastern Jews i.e the Ashkenazim and the Sephardi.

    European Jews, the A and the S, are Europeans, mostly the results of conversions among Southern Europeans, Italians, Greeks, pre Turkish Anatolians women and some men, with a few Middle Eastern immigrants during the Greco-Roman times. Those people don’t differ much from Southern Europeans like Sicilian Italians, Calabrian and other south Italians and Greeks, on dna tests using half a million SNPs. It would be extremely difficult to separate those European Jews, all grandparents Jews, from Southern Europeans like Sicilians and Greeks, all grandparents Sicilian and Greek. Even Dr. Doug McDonald who has a BGA test using SNPs has admitted that a number of times.

    Middle Eastern Jews are Middle Eastern people from the areas where they are found. So Yemeni Jews are the converts of Yemenis. Basically the same applies to all other Jews: Indian Jews are Indian converts, Ethiopian Jews are Ethiopian, Chinese Jews are Chinese. In other words, all Jews are genetically derived from the area they come from, all of majority convert stock with just a little admixture from real Jews who came from the Middle East.

    One day, a test will show that all the who-ha about Jews and their putative origins in the Middle East is just a lot of fabrication based on some Holy books and religious adherence to the three so called monotheistic religions.

  • John Emerson

    My instinct is to take the Asian-African slices as meaningless artifacts except in India, Ethiopia, Libya, and Algeria. The north-south divide is more interesting.

  • Razib Khan

    There is too much on Jews especially the people everyone including themselves think are real authentic, Middle Eastern Jews i.e the Ashkenazim and the Sephardi.

    you pretty much show you haven’t familiarized yourself with all that “too much” with the other comments you made. a lot of what you say is false. you’re going in a maximalist direction, and the data do not allow for maximalism of either sort (i.e., jews-are-converts of local populace vs. jews-are-middle eastern).

  • Jon

    “you pretty much show you haven’t familiarized yourself with all that “too much” with the other comments you made. a lot of what you say is false.”

    I wouldn’t say false, but maybe misdirected. I haven’t read through the report and don’t really understand the point of the data. but there is a point to ponto’s comment. Even in the biblical account, even if there was a heavy focus on marrying within your tribe, or even within the twelve tribes, there were a considerable amount of converts. Judaism being the “true” religion of that time and record it was also a sort of melting pot. I think the main point that was trying to be made was that as peoples of the Jewish faith, rather than of the tribe of Judah, spread out they brought converts into the faith thus dispersing their genes into other populations and vice versa. I wouldn’t say that this fact discredits the data, just makes it more difficult to find. Hence there is a very general distinction of Jewish genes in the data. In fact, it is rather astounding that there was even a distinction between Northern and Southern.

  • Anthony

    One could read the data you plotted as support for the “Khazar hypothesis” – the “southern” population being the original near-eastern population (including the original Habiru and near-eastern converts), and the “northern” population being descendants of the Khazars and possible other convert groups, with some significant amount of intermixing and migration.

    The case that the Falasha (Ethiopian jews) and the Jews of India are primarily (or significantly, in the Indian case) descended from local converts looks pretty strong here, though I don’t know if that’s controversial or accepted in previous studies.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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