Jewish Heritage Written in DNA

Fully sequenced genomes of more than 100 Ashkenazi people clarify the group’s history and provide a reference for researchers and physicians trying to pinpoint disease-associated genes.

By | September 9, 2014

FLICKR, EMMANUEL DYANWhole-genome sequences from 128 healthy Jewish people could help the medical community identify disease-associated variants in those of Ashkenazi ancestry, according to a study published today (September 9) in Nature Communications. The library of sequences also confirms earlier conclusions about Ashkenazi history hinted at by more limited DNA sequencing studies. For instance, the sequences point to an approximate 350-person bottleneck in the Ashkenazi population as recently as 700 years ago, and suggest that the population has a mixture of European and Middle Eastern ancestry.

The study “provides a very nice reference panel for the very unique population of Ashkenazi Jews,” said Alon Keinan, who studies human population genomics at Cornell University in New York. Keinan is acknowledged in the study but was not involved in the research.

“One might have thought that, after many years of genetic studies relating to Ashkenazi Jews . . . there would be little room for additional insights,” Karl Skorecki of the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Israel who also was not involved in the study wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. The study, he added, provides “a powerful further validation and further resolution of the demographic history of the Ashkenazi Jews in relation to non-Jewish Europeans that is reassuringly consistent with inferences drawn from two decades of studies using uniparental regions . . . and from array-based data.”

Itsik Pe’er, coauthor of the new study and an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University in New York City, recalled that several years ago, he and his colleagues kept running into the same problem as they tried to understand the genetics of disease in Ashkenazi populations. They were comparing their Ashkenazi samples to the only control genomes that were available, which were of largely non-Jewish European origin. The Ashkenazi genomes had variation that was absent in these general European genomes, making it hard to distinguish rare variants in Ashkenazi people.

“Technology is there to tell us everything in that [Ashkenazi] patient’s genome, but the genome was not there to distinguish the variants that are there and to tell us whether they are normal or whether we should get worried,” said Pe’er.

Pe’er’s group teamed up with researchers from additional universities and hospitals in the U.S., Belgium, and Israel to sequence a collection of healthy Ashkenazi people’s genomes. The resulting panel of reference sequences performs better than a group of European genomes at filtering out harmless variants from Ashkenazi Jewish genomes, thereby making it easier to identify potentially harmful ones.

According to Pe’er, researchers will also be able to use the panel to infer more complete sequences from partially sequenced genomes by looking for familiar sequences from the reference genomes.

The team also used its data to better understand the history of the Ashkenazi Jewish people through analyzing both level of similarity within Ashkenazi genomes and between Ashkenazi and non-Jewish European genomes. By analyzing the length of identical DNA sequences that Ashkenazi individuals share, the researchers were able to estimate that 25 to 32 generations ago, the Ashkenazi Jewish population shrunk to just several hundred people, before expanding rapidly to eventually include the millions of Ashkenazi Jews alive today.

Further, the researchers concluded that modern Ashkenazi Jews likely have an approximately even mixture of European and Middle Eastern ancestry. This suggests that after the Jewish people migrated from the Middle East to Europe, they recruited people from local European populations.

These results are compatible with those of prior work on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed on maternally. This prior work suggested that Ashkenazi men from the Middle East intermarried with local European women. The Ashkenazi population “hasn’t been likely as isolated as at least some researchers considered,” said Keinan.

Finally, the newly sequenced genomes shed light on the deeper history of Europe, showing that the European and Middle Eastern portions of Ashkenazi ancestry diverged just around 20,000 years ago.

“This is, I think, the first evidence from whole human genomes that the most important wave of settlement from the Near East was most likely shortly after the Last Glacial Maximum  . . . and, notably, before the Neolithic transition—which is what researchers working on mitochondrial DNA have been arguing for some years,” Martin Richards, an archeogeneticist at the University of Huddersfield in the U.K., told The Scientist in an e-mail.

Skorecki noted that the new study demonstrates the utility of sequencing whole genomes of a more diverse set of people. “It is not clear to what extent this level of powerful inference will be reproducible in other population isolates with less dramatic or recent bottlenecks followed by expansions,” he said. “But with sufficient numbers of samples, parent population information, and computational analytic power, we can expect important and surprising utilities for personal genomics and insights in terms of human demographic history from whole genomes.”

S. Carmi et al., “Sequencing an Ashkenazi reference panel supports population-targeted personal genomics and illuminates Jewish and European origins,” Nature Communications, doi:0.1038/ncomms5835, 2014.

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Avatar of: JohnnyMorales


Posts: 30

September 10, 2014

They had to do a study to determine there was intermarriage, really?

Considering the origins of Jews, and considering that Israel is the only nation to border the African continent it should go without saying that today's "White" Jews are a product of mixing with Europeans. There is no way enough time has passed for them as a group to have lost so much color.

If they had stayed exclusive, they'd still be as dark skinned as the first Jews who came from the Middle East, and the proof is the Gypsies.

They've been in Europe for a very long time, but unlike Jewish folk, they intermarry in far far lower numbers and retain the much darker hue of their ancestors from India.

That an article on Jewish people in a science publication implies of the original Jewish immigrants to Europe as possibly being natively so light skinned like the Northern Europeans is truly mind boggling especially when there is plentiful evidence in ancient Roman art portrayng them very clearly as the exact opposite.



Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 11, 2014

In flies, "Mitochondrial replication, transcription, translation and respiration depend upon interactions between RNAs and proteins encoded in both genomes, and epistatic interactions between mitochondrial and nuclear polymorphisms are known to contribute to phenotypic and fitness variation within species [1]–[6]." That suggests ecological variation and nutrient-dependent ecological adaptations in all species are manifested in different human populations via pheromone-controlled RNA-mediated events.

I mentioned that likelihood in the following context of a 2013 review: "In flies, ecological and social niche construction can be linked to molecular-level cause and effect at the cellular and organismal levels via nutrient-dependent changes in mitochondrial tRNA and a nuclear-encoded tRNA synthetase. The enzyme enables attachment of an appropriate amino acid, which facilitates the reaction required for efficient and accurate protein synthesis (Meiklejohn et al., 2013)."

I also provided examples from other model organisms that show amino acid substitutions may link cell type differentiation in all cells of all individuals of all genera. Thus, claims by evolutionary theorists about mutations, natural selection, and the evolution of biodiversity are antithetical to what is currently known about transgenerational epigenetic effects.

I'm not claiming that evolutionary theorists think mutations can explain Jewish and European origins via natural selection associated with any last universal common ancestor. However, I think any claims that involve undisclosed evolutionary events, which appear to begin with light-induced amino acid substitutions in plants, should be compared with what is currently known about RNA-mediated events -- if only to stop to the pseudoscientific nonsense of ridiculous claims based on population genetics.

I apologize for being adamant about this. But already I can see -- from the first comment on this news -- that racism may enter the picture because theorists never realized skin color is a nutrient-dependent morphological trait, not the result of any mutation. That links other morphological and behavioral phenotypes in other species to nutrient-dependent RNA-mediated events and ecological adaptions, not to the mutations discussed in Nicholas Wade's "A Troublesome Inheritance."

Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance is only troublesome when it's attributed to mutations. Let's stop doing that, shall we?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 12, 2014

I withdraw my apology for being adamant about the need to examine biological facts that refute the pseudoscientific nonsense of evolutionary theory. See: RNA and dynamic nuclear organization  Others are on the verge of polite attacks, but the attacks on ignorance go beyond merely being adamant.

Also: "...the interactions between pre-mRNA and proteins fine-tune alternative splicing in a manner that can gradually create new protein functionalities without the need to create additional genes and without affecting existing proteins 4-6."


If the information on RNA-mediated events takes you by surprise, see our section on molecular epigenetics in: From Fertilization to Adult Sexual Behavior. "Small intranuclear proteins also participate in generating alternative splicing techniques of pre-mRNA and, by this mechanism, contribute to sexual differentiation in at least two species, Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans. That similar proteins perform functions in humans suggests the possibility that some human sex differences may arise from alternative splicings of otherwise identical genes." (p. 337)

We probably should have claimed that all cell type differentiation arises from alternative splicings of otherwise identical genes since it obviously does, but we didn't want to be adamant about anything in 1996, and our focus was on sex differences in cell types in species from yeasts to mammals.

Avatar of: Neovatar


Posts: 1

September 17, 2014

As I recall reading from other studies, small community of migrants manly men of Jewish faith from Middle east migrated to roman empire and intermarried with local women. When western Roman empire fell, and with the rise of Germanic and the French civilization, these mixed jews moved into Ashkanazim (old word for Deutchland ). There they obviously mixed with the Germanics. Yiddish is a German creole with Hebrew and Romance words.

The Shepardy might have a similar story. Consider the North africans, they are of Mediteranian racial stock. Common genetics with southern European. 

Now its a mixed racial ethnic group but very Tribal in mentality. 


Avatar of: Meadow


Posts: 1

October 27, 2014

I completely disagree with the above commenter, and the whole popular meme of black Jews being the originals. I am in no way saying they was not a tiny minority of black Jews, most Jews were and are olive skinned. 

The only "evidence" the above commenter proposes at all: "there is plentiful evidence in ancient Roman art portrayng them very clearly as the exact opposite [of white]". However the opposite is the only case there is not on single piece of Roman archeology depicting a black Jew IN FACT!!! I will name a couple, I have viewed hundreds archeoiogy universally agreed to be contemparary to the third Diaspora. The Arch of Titus, the features of the captives are olive or white, in no way are they much different than Romans, just a little shorter and with slightly longer noses, but look white to anyone who is willing to look. The first Church in Italy to depice Jesus from about 200 AD depicts him as white slightly olive. The Lebanese to this day are white slightly olive. The Syrians to this day are white slightly olive. But most importantly the Bible over and over says the Jews are in fact as Abraham was; Aramean. Armenians are white slightly olive and overlap all Jewish DNA to very high degree, just as the white slightly olive Kurds do. Just as the purest heritage Arabians are white slightly olive. But most important to understanding the ancient Judeans is to understand the Hittites whose empire bordered the Caucuses, and the Jubusites who were Hitite, were the first people to mix with the Jews rather than the mixed "race" Egyptians, Abraham bought his first parcel of Israel from a Hittite (Genisis), Hittites have no connection ever, or whatsoever to Africa, Hittites bordered on the Caucuses, and were rather than Egyptians the first peole the Jews mixed with.

Next; most of the first Jews were descended of the daughters of Lavan the Hebrew word for WHITE!!! Levan's descendents according to all Iraqi and  Egyptian early middle ages, late antiquity,  Jewish commentators is a descendent  of the first Lebanese, (i.e. Phonecians) though he moved to taday's trnsjordan/Jordan/petra/palestine before they decided only western Palestine is Palestine to give Arabs more land,  the Lebanese today are the lightest skinned people in the Middle East, Pythagoras was Lebanese or Jewish (Phonecian) and he mixed with the Greeks without them knowing. Phonecian is literally identical to Hebrew in its oldest form, that is uses the exact same alphabet (letter names and letter order) as modern Hebrew look it up, and with a very few exceptions is identical to ancient Hebrew in script. Lebanon is the opposite direction of Africa and is as I stated the south most tip of the Hittite Empire going to the Caucus mountains, and the Levant where the original non-Arab people look Armenian and Byzantine to this day. 

There is so much more evidence than this.    One more example just this year a find in Isral of an Egyptian tomb and it is one of the whitest as far as features of any Egyptian tomb I can find, there were white Egyptians, and many Egyptian tombs are white featured while many others clearly black. Israel is also the only place outside of Europe where a Neandarthal burial site was found look it up, again highlighting that Israel always had a connection to the European mainland, the Philistines who were native Cypriots were called "Sea People" the tribes of Israel also sailed on the Mediterenean according to the Jewish texts,  at least as much as its African border to the South and Hittite border to its north and Syrian/Iraqi border to its East, was the sea border and the neanderthal caves prove this. It is racist to assume that white people are the only ones in history with the ruthlessness and smarts to colonize, maybe black people at one time also colonized places, as did Arabs, and maybe even in the very ancient past more often than white/olive people? The idea of black Jews being the majority of the originals is untrue to my head, and doubtful to any skeptic not caught up in the anti-white and olive by extension biases popular in our day.

Avatar of: Rainy Day

Rainy Day

Posts: 1

April 10, 2015

AMAZING!! Heritage, Customs, Religions transfers to DNA. Instead of saying Russian mixed with Black Africans, you can just say your an Ashkenazi Jew or Eastern European Jew. Maybe people could just call themselves Mormons, Baptist and Catholics instead of calling themselves Canadians, Americans, Russians, Mexicans, etc. I'm sure if the Heritage, Customs and Religions of Ashkenazi's have transfered to their DNA, everyone on earth has had a transfer as well. However, there could be a slight problem with the EDOGOMY GENES. I've always read that Incest Genes councel out each other. Science, always changes. 

Avatar of: Dr. De Ciel

Dr. De Ciel

Posts: 1

June 6, 2017

 I  want to kow what  happems when a person who is considered African American gets a DNA test that shows they are Askenasi Jewish. what happens to that person can they say they are Jewish and Join the Federation of Jews ?

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