Genome Maps Trace Jewish Origins: Roots of Far-Flung Populations Reach Back to the Levant

Article excerpt

Scientists taking a genome-wide view of ancestry have confirmed what historians, archaeologists and linguists have long known- Jews originated in the part of the Middle East known as the Levant.

Two new studies show that most Jewish groups share large swaths of DNA.

A study of 14 Jewish Diaspora communities and 59 non-Jewish populations, published online June 9 in Nature, finds that Jews share genetic heritage with Middle Eastern groups, such as the Druze. The work also indicates that most of the Jewish groups trace their genetic origins to the Levant, which includes present-day Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon and other areas. From there, groups of Jews migrated to other parts of the world.

Maps of those migrations were inscribed in the DNA by genetic signatures of local people that Jews interbred with as they moved. Most contemporary Jews carry evidence of a Middle Eastern origin along with genetic heritage from European and North African ancestors.

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"I like to think of relatedness as a tapestry, and these shared segments [of DNA] are threads in the tapestry," says Harry Ostrer, a geneticist at New York University School of Medicine and the leader of a study published in the June 11 American Journal of Human Genetics.

Each of the Jewish groups in the studies has its own genetic signature but is more closely related to the other Jewish groups than to non-Jewish groups. …