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

August 16, 2012, Tel Aviv University
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

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Study advances gene therapy for glaucoma

January 16, 2018
While testing genes to treat glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eye, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists stumbled onto a problem: They had trouble getting efficient gene delivery to the cells that act like drains ...

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

The surprising role of gene architecture in cell fate decisions

January 16, 2018
Scientists read the code of life—the genome—as a sequence of letters, but now researchers have also started exploring its three-dimensional organisation. In a paper published in Nature Genetics, an interdisciplinary research ...

How incurable mitochondrial diseases strike previously unaffected families

January 15, 2018
Researchers have shown for the first time how children can inherit a severe - potentially fatal - mitochondrial disease from a healthy mother. The study, led by researchers from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit at the University ...

Genes that aid spinal cord healing in lamprey also present in humans

January 15, 2018
Many of the genes involved in natural repair of the injured spinal cord of the lamprey are also active in the repair of the peripheral nervous system in mammals, according to a study by a collaborative group of scientists ...

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.