Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ancestry testing goes for pinpoint accuracy

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

Until a few years ago, most ancestry tests for individuals relied on short stretches of DNA in cell-powering organelles called mitochondria, which are inherited through the mother, or on the Y chromosome, which a father passes down to his sons. While providing very accurate information about father/son relationships, these tests were not always so accurate about the geographical origins of earlier ancestors.

For example, a set of Y-chromosome markers called Haplogroup R1b is common among Western European men, but a small fraction of North Africans have it, too. Similarly, “if men have a Y chromosome that is more common in Scandinavia than England, they’re convinced they’re a Viking”, says Mark Jobling, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, UK. But that is not necessarily the case. Such nuances are not always conveyed by the companies that offer such services, notes Jobling. What’s more, Y-chromosome or mitochondrial markers trace only one strand in a person’s ancestry.

Writing in Nature magazine, Ewen Callaway describes the latest surveys of human genetic diversity, including the International HapMap Project and the 1000 Genomes Project. Callaway states that "Individuals may soon be able to trace the geographic origins of their ancestors more precisely. An academic project called People of the British Isles has distinguished the genetic signatures of people from neighbouring UK counties."

You can read more in the latest edition of Nature at

My thanks to Sue Burgess for telling me about the article.