New genetic study defines the genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas

August 6, 2012

A new genetic analysis focusing on Jews from North Africa has provided an overall genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas. The findings support the historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during Classical Antiquity, proselytizing and marrying local populations, and, in the process, forming distinct populations that stayed largely intact for more than 2,000 years. The study, led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, was published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our new findings define North African Jews, complete the overall structure for the various groups of the Jewish Diaspora, and enhance the case for a biological basis for Jewishness," said study leader Harry Ostrer, M.D. , professor of pathology, of genetics and of pediatrics at Einstein and director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of at Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Ostrer noted that obtaining a comprehensive of various Jewish subpopulations can help reveal to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other .

The video will load shortly
Harry Ostrer, M.D., discusses how his research into a new genetic analysis focusing on Jews from North Africa has provided an overall genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas. Dr. Ostrer is professor of pathology, of genetics and of pediatrics at Einstein and director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of clinical pathology at Montefiore Medical Center. Credit: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

In a previous genetic analysis, the researchers showed that modern-day Sephardic (Greek and Turkish), Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Mizrahi (Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian) Jews that originated in Europe and the Middle East are more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish neighbors, with each group forming its own cluster within the larger Jewish population. Further, each group demonstrated Middle-Eastern ancestry and varying degrees of mixing with surrounding populations. Two of the major Jewish populations—Middle Eastern and European Jews—were found to have diverged from each other approximately 2,500 years ago.

The current study extends that analysis to North African Jews—the second largest Jewish Diaspora group. Their relatedness to each other, to other Jewish Diaspora groups, and to their non-Jewish North African neighbors had not been well defined. The study also included members of Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Yemen and Georgia. In all, the researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations along with data on 114 individuals from seven North African non-Jewish populations.

North African Jews exhibited a high degree of endogamy, or marriage within their own religious and cultural group in accordance with custom. Two major subgroups within this overall population were identified: Moroccan/Algerian Jews and Djerban (Tunisian)/Libyan Jews. The two subgroups varied in their degree of European mixture, with Moroccan/Algerian Jews tending to be more related to Europeans—most likely stemming from the expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Spain during the Inquisition, starting in 1492. Ethiopian and Yemenite Jewish populations also formed distinctive genetically linked clusters, as did Georgian Jews.

Explore further: Researchers find 5 risk biomarkers for Crohn's disease in Jews of Eastern European descent

Related Stories

Researchers find 5 risk biomarkers for Crohn's disease in Jews of Eastern European descent

March 8, 2012
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have discovered five new genetic mutations associated with Crohn's disease in Jews of Eastern European descent, also known as Ashkenazi Jews. ...

Population genetics reveals shared ancestries

May 24, 2011
More than just a tool for predicting health, modern genetics is upending long-held assumptions about who we are. A new study by Harvard researchers casts new light on the intermingling and migration of European, Middle Eastern ...

Recommended for you

Scientists provide insight into genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders

July 21, 2017
A study by scientists at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is providing insight into the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. In this research, the first mouse model of a mutation ...

South Asian genomes could be boon for disease research, scientists say

July 18, 2017
The Indian subcontinent's massive population is nearing 1.5 billion according to recent accounts. But that population is far from monolithic; it's made up of nearly 5,000 well-defined sub-groups, making the region one of ...

Mutant yeast reveals details of the aberrant genomic machinery of children's high-grade gliomas

July 18, 2017
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital biologists have used engineered yeast cells to discover how a mutation that is frequently found in pediatric brain tumor high-grade glioma triggers a cascade of genomic malfunctions.

Late-breaking mutations may play an important role in autism

July 17, 2017
A study of nearly 6,000 families, combining three genetic sequencing technologies, finds that mutations that occur after conception play an important role in autism. A team led by investigators at Boston Children's Hospital ...

Newly identified genetic marker may help detect high-risk flu patients

July 17, 2017
Researchers have discovered an inherited genetic variation that may help identify patients at elevated risk for severe, potentially fatal influenza infections. The scientists have also linked the gene variant to a mechanism ...

Newly discovered gene variants link innate immunity and Alzheimer's disease

July 17, 2017
Three new gene variants, found in a genome wide association study of Alzheimer's disease (AD), point to the brain's immune cells in the onset of the disorder. These genes encode three proteins that are found in microglia, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.