DNA sat nav finds where ancestors live 1,000 years ago

DNA sat nav finds where ancestors live 1,000 years ago

Boffins have developed a groundbreaking ‘DNA sat nav’ that can direct people to where their ancestors lived over 1,000 years ago.

The revolutionary Geographic Population Structure tool developed by a team Of international scientists led by the University of Sheffield, uses Technology similar to that in a satellite navigation system to trace a person’s DNA.

Previously, scientists have only been able to locate where a person’s DNA Was formed to within 700kms but the pioneering technique has been 98 per cent successful in locating worldwide populations to their right geographic regions, and down to their village and island of origin.

The breakthrough of knowing where the gene pools that created your DNA were last mixed has massive implications for life-saving personalised medicine, advancing forensic science and for the study of populations whose ancestral origins are under debate, such as African Americans, Roma gypsies and European Jews.

The Geographic Population Structure (GPS) tool was created by Dr Eran Elhaik from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences And Dr Tatiana Tatarinova from the University of Southern California.

Dr Elhaik said: “If we think of our world as being made up of different Colours of soup – representing different populations – it is easy to visualise how genetic admixture occurs. If a population from the blue soup region mixes with a population from the red soup region their off-springs would appear as a purple soup.

“The more genetic admixture that takes place, the more different colours of soup are introduced which makes it increasingly difficult to locate your DNA’s ancestry using traditional tools like Spatial Ancestry analysis (SPA) which has an accuracy level of less than two per cent.”

He added: “What we have discovered is a way to find not where you were born – as you have that information on your passport – but where your DNA was formed up to 1,000 years ago by modelling these admixture processes.

“What is remarkable is that, we can do this so accurately that we can locate the village where your ancestors lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago – until now this has never been possible.”

To demonstrate how accurate GPS predictions are, the team analysed data from 10 villages in Sardinia and over 20 islands in Oceania.

The research published in the journal Nature Communications shows that Dr Elhaik and his team were able to place a quarter of the residents in Sardinia directly to their home village and most of the remaining residents within 50km of their village.

The results for Oceania came back with almost 90 per cent success of tracing islanders exactly to their island.

Dr Elhaik added: “This technique also means that we can no longer easily classify people’s ethnic identities with one single label. It is impossible for any of us to tick one box on a form such as White British or African as we are much complex models with our own unique identities. The notion of races is simply not plausible.”

According to the researchers, in ethnically-diverse regions like the UK or US, where many people know only a few generations of their descendants, this kind of screening has huge, important medical implications.

Discovery of a certain genotype might indicate the potential for a genetic disease and suggest that diagnostic testing be done.


Image courtesy of Thomas Splettstoesser from wikimedia.org