A GPS in your DNA: Research says genetics can reveal your geographic ancestral origin

August 16, 2012
A GPS in your DNA: Research says genetics can reveal your geographic ancestral origin

While your DNA is unique, it also tells the tale of your family line. It carries the genetic history of your ancestors down through the generations. Now, says a Tel Aviv University researcher, it's also possible to use it as a map to your family's past.

Prof. Eran Halperin of TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Department of and Biotechnology, along with a group of researchers from University of California, Los Angeles, are giving new meaning to the term "." Using a probabilistic model of for every coordinate on the globe, the researchers have developed a method for determining more precisely the of a person's ancestral origins.

The new method is able to pinpoint more specific locations for an individual's ancestors, for example placing an individual's father in Paris and mother in Barcelona. Previous methods would "split the difference" and place this origin inaccurately at a site between those two cities, such as Lyon.

Published in the journal Nature Genetics, this method has the potential to reveal the ancestry, origins, and of many different human and animal populations. It could also be a new model for learning about the genome.

Points of origin

There are points in the human genome called that are manifested differently in each individual, explains Prof. Halperin. These points mutated sometime in the past and the mutation was then passed to a large part of the population in a particular geographic region. The probability of a person possessing these mutations today varies depending on the geographical location of those early ancestors.

"We wanted to ask, for example, about the probability of having the genetic mutation 'A' in a particular position on the genome based on geographical coordinates," he says. When you look at many of these positions together in a bigger picture, it's possible to group populations with the same mutation by point of origin.

To test their method, Prof. Halperin and his fellow researchers studied DNA samples from 1,157 people from across Europe. Using a probabilistic mathematical algorithm based on mutations in the genome, they were able to accurately determine their ancestral point or points of origin using only DNA data and the new mathematical model, unravelling genetic information to ascertain two separate points on the map for the mother and father. The researchers hope to extend this model to identify the origins of grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on.

The new method could provide information that has applications in population genetic studies — to study a disease that impacts a particular group, for example. Researchers can track changes in different genomic traits across a map, such as the tendency for southern Europeans to have a mutation in a gene that causes lactose intolerance, a mutation missing from that gene in northern Europeans.

A closer look at migration

The researchers believe that their model could have also relevance for the animal kingdom, tracking the movement of . "In principle, you could figure out where the animals have migrated from, and as a result learn about habitat changes due to historical climate change or other factors," says Prof. Halperin.

Explore further: New genetic method pinpoints geographic origin

More information: For more information, visit the project's website at: genetics.cs.ucla.edu/spa/demo.html

Related Stories

New genetic method pinpoints geographic origin

May 24, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Understanding the genetic diversity within and between populations has important implications for studies of human disease and evolution. This includes identifying associations between genetic variants ...

Life scientists use novel technique to produce genetic map for African Americans

July 23, 2011
UCLA life scientists and colleagues have produced one of the first high-resolution genetic maps for African American populations. A genetic map reveals the precise locations across the genome where DNA from a person's father ...

World's most advanced genetic map created

July 20, 2011
A consortium led by scientists at the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School has constructed the world's most detailed genetic map.

Recommended for you

The 16 genetic markers that can cut a life story short

July 27, 2017
The answer to how long each of us will live is partly encoded in our genome. Researchers have identified 16 genetic markers associated with a decreased lifespan, including 14 new to science. This is the largest set of markers ...

A rogue gene is causing seizures in babies—here's how scientists wants to stop it

July 26, 2017
Two rare diseases caused by a malfunctioning gene that triggers seizures or involuntary movements in children as early as a few days old have left scientists searching for answers and better treatment options.

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 ...

Scientists identify new way cells turn off genes

July 19, 2017
Cells have more than one trick up their sleeve for controlling certain genes that regulate fetal growth and development.

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.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sean_W
5 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2012
I wonder how long before our modern level of transcontinental mating makes it too complicated to trace one's ancestral home like this. They should do all the research they can while the geo-genetic information is available.

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.