Slaying the Dragons of Genetic Dogma


Copy of fifth century BCE statue by Polyclitus, called the Spear Thrower.

Can genetics distinguish between a Jew and a non-Jew? On the basis of genetics alone, can anyone tell you if you are Native American, or part Native American, or what part or percentage?

Is there a DNA signature for people of Cherokee descent?  What about other tribal varieties? These and other fundamental questions are once more in the forefront of DNA research as “next-generation ancestry testing” emerges in the direct-to-consumer marketplace.

Next-generation DNA ancestry testing succeeds “SNP chip” technology as the newest autosomal method for solving long-standing challenges. (For a comparison of methods, see our blog post, “Do You Know Your European Origins?”) One of the champions of next-generation autosomal haplotyping, who has emerged as the bête noire of both the orthodox and the Orthodox, is Eran Elhaik.  A half-Italian, half-Iranian Israeli Jew, Elhaik worked and trained in Israel and the United States and is currently lecturer in genomics at the University of Sheffield.

From exploding the myth of biological Jewishness and refuting the so-called Rhineland thesis of Jewish origins to helping improve the information of ancient archeological DNA and helping develop a genetic analysis tool that steers admixed persons to their primeval villages of origin, the thirty-something wunderkind has drawn plaudits and potshots from all quarters.

Earlier work published in 2013 by Hellenthal et al. applied a similar method called “chromosome painting” to tracing shared “chunks” of DNA that decay from generation to generation back to constituent founder groups matching extant populations.

Their pioneering statistical work on population change through GLOBETROTTER software redefined haplotyping so that we can now speak routinely of autosomal haplotypes whereas the term used to be restricted to male (Y chromosome) and female (mitochondrial) lineages.

The same British and German geneticists observed admixture processes following in the wake of the Mongol hoards, the Arab slave trade and Bantu expansions in Africa. They thought that these tools for dating the age of admixture were effective for at least the last 4,000 years, when populations of importance to all countries and cultures on earth today were formed, and they noted that most of the admixture events of history have thus far passed as invisible and unknown.

We eagerly seized on Hellenthal et al’s admixture tools and published“Admixture in Pima Includes Greek and Sardinian:  Genetic Signature of the Minoans, Sea Peoples and Other Mediterranean Peoples in the Southwest?” in this space, March 22, 2015.


  Comments: 1

  1. I’m really looking forward to the new test! I have the illusive Native American (Cherokee) in my tree. I have been so disappointed in the reaction of both professed Native American Genealogists and non-Native American Genealogists. I am repeatedly told that if my ancestor did not walk the Trail of Tears, there is no way you have any Cherokee heritage. It is very frustrating. I applaud DNA Consultants for working to move the ball forward with regard to more sophisticated DNA testing to hopefully shed new light on families like mine that have these illusive anomalies in their family trees.

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