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-- Millions of Jews traced to four women - Study identifies genetic signatures for 3.5 million Ashkenazi Jews
-- Jamestown DNA sleuths strike out - Experts couldn’t find good sample to match with colonial remains
-- Gene study links Polynesians to Taiwan - DNA points to Pacific population’s origins in East Asia
-- Revolutionary War mystery still unsettled - DNA results fail to resolve question about hero’s fate
-- Human migration traced through genes - Researchers to analyze DNA from people around world
-- DNA preserves Native American heritage - Could genetic testing help determine tribal rights
-- Genghis Khan DNA test attracts hordes of takers - Resurgence of interest in Mongolian Ancestry

 Millions of Jews traced to four women
Study identifies genetic signatures for 3.5 million Ashkenazi Jews

NEW YORK - About 3.5 million of today’s Ashkenazi Jews — 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population — are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates.  Those women apparently lived somewhere in Europe within the last 2,000 years, but not necessarily in the same place or even the same century, said lead author Dr. Doron Behar of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.  He did the work with Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and others.

Each woman left a genetic signature that shows up in their descendants today, he and colleagues say in a report published online by the American Journal of Human Genetics. Together, their four signatures appear in about 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews, while being virtually absent in non-Jews and found only rarely in Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin, the researchers said.  The total Ashkenazi population is estimated at around 8 million people. The estimated world Jewish population is about 13 million.  Ashkenazi Jews are a group with mainly central and eastern European ancestry.  Ultimately, though, they can be traced back to Jews who migrated from Israel to Italy in the first and second centuries.  Eventually this group moved to Eastern Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and expanded greatly, reaching about 10 million just before World War II, he said.

Maternal lineages traced
The study involved mitochondrial DNA, called mtDNA, which is passed only through the mother. A woman can pass her mtDNA to grandchildren only thru their daughters. So mtDNA is the perfect tool to trace maternal lineages.
His study involved analyzing mtDNA from more than 11,000 samples representing 67 populations.

Mike Hammer, who does similar research at the University of Arizona, said he found the work tracing back to just four ancestors “quite plausible ... I think they’ve done a really good job of tackling this question.”  But he said it’s not clear the women lived in Europe.  They may have existed in the Near East. “We don’t know exactly where the four women were, but their descendants left a legacy in the population today, whereas other women’s descendants did not.” 

Behar said the four women he referred to did inherit their genetic signatures from female ancestors who lived in the Near East. But he said he preferred to focus on these later European descendants because they were at the root of the Ashkenazi population explosion.

Previously printed by MSNBC.com at URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5379014/

 Jamestown DNA sleuths strike out
- Experts couldn’t find good sample to match with colonial remains

Updated: 6:43 p.m. ET Nov. 10, 2005

JAMESTOWN, Va. - Scientists’ hopes that DNA testing would identify a nearly 400-year-old skeleton found at Jamestown have been dashed, but they remain confident that the remains are those of an unsung founder of North America’s first English settlement.  American and British scientists had hoped DNA they believe to be of Bartholomew Gosnold would match with that of a woman buried in England who they had thought was his sister. Tests, however, found the woman wasn’t a blood relative of Gosnold, the nonprofit Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities announced Thursday.

“Was I disappointed? Of course,” said Bill Kelso, the association’s director of archaeology at Jamestown. “A lot of work went into this.”  Kelso remains convinced, however, that researchers have correctly identified Gosnold based on historical, archaeological and forensic evidence.  “It’s all come together,” he said.

Gosnold, a former privateer, discovered and named Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard in 1602, and captained one of three ships that carried settlers from England to Virginia in 1607.  He died three months later, at age 36.  Historians, who relied on written accounts of Jamestown’s founding from Capt. John Smith and other settlers, largely overlooked Gosnold. Smith, however, described him as “the prime mover behind the settlement.” 

A nearly intact skeleton of a European man in his mid- to late 30s was found in 2002 near the site of the Jamestown fort. Evidence such as a coffin — usually reserved at the time for people of higher status — and a decorative captain’s staff on its lid have led researchers to believe the remains are Gosnold’s.  “We have never found any other ceremonial objects in Jamestown burials, so we know this was someone very special,” Kelso said.

In June, researchers led by Kelso took a bone sample from an unmarked grave under the floor of a church in Shelley, England, that had been thought to be the likely location of the remains of Gosnold’s sister Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney. It was the first time the Church of England had authorized such research for scientific purposes.  Microscopic analysis, however, found that the woman was about 24 years too young to be Gosnold’s sister, said Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History who oversaw testing of the sample.  Owsley said that although records indicate Gosnold’s sister is buried in the church, researchers can’t go tearing up the floor to find her.  “We walked over her,” Owsley said. “She’s there.”

Attempts to find the remains of Gosnold’s niece at another church in England were unsuccessful. Scientists working with skeletal remains can trace DNA only through maternal relatives.  Discoveries continue, however, as Jamestown nears its 400th anniversary. Archaeologists announced Thursday that they had found the remains of the final section of the original 1607 walls of James Fort.

Previously printed by MSNBC.com at URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5379014/

 Revolutionary War mystery still unsettled
DNA results fail to resolve question about hero’s fate

Updated: 10:35 p.m. ET June 21, 2005

SAVANNAH, Ga. - DNA tests on bones exhumed from a monument to Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski failed to prove the remains are those of the Revolutionary War hero killed in a 1779 battle to retake Savannah from the British.

But a draft report on the investigation into Pulaski’s disputed burial says historical records and skeletal injuries make a case that the remains are those of the Polish nobleman.  “While the strong circumstantial evidence does suggest that the remains are Casimir Pulaski, the inability to obtain a DNA match leads to no viable conclusion,” says the report.  Dr. James C. Metts Jr., the Chatham County coroner, hoped DNA testing of the remains exhumed in 1996 would settle the question of whether Pulaski was buried at sea or placed in an unmarked grave.

Debate divides historians
The debate has divided historians since the bones were removed from the grave at a ruined plantation and moved in 1854 to Savannah’s Monterey Square, where the 54-foot Pulaski monument was erected a year later.  “To our great frustration, we were unable to solve the mystery,” said Chuck Powell, administrator of the investigative committee led by Metts. “The final report, other than giving more complete information, will probably not change in its conclusions.”  Metts submitted the draft to Savannah officials in November. The city released the findings after the AP requested a copy last week.

Father of the American cavalry
Known as the father of the American cavalry, Pulaski came to America in 1777. He was mortally wounded during the October 1779 siege of Savannah.  Examinations of the skull and bones seemed to match what’s known of Pulaski’s age, height and facial features. A healed fracture to the right hand fits an injury Pulaski once described in a letter. A bone tumor on the forehead fits a wound he suffered fighting the Russians in Poland.  But without more solid proof, it’s difficult to debunk Pulaski’s burial at sea. Two officers who served under Pulaski wrote accounts of his watery grave. One of them, his aide-de-camp, said he witnessed the burial.  Investigators had hoped to match DNA from the bones to two of Pulaski’s deceased relatives in Poland. In one case, the test was inconclusive. In the other, the woman’s remains failed to yield enough DNA to examine.

Previously printed by MSNBC.com at URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5379014/

 Human migration traced through genes
Researchers to analyze DNA from people around world

Updated: 2:45 p.m. ET April 13, 2005

Researchers are aiming to learn more about how the Earth was populated by collecting and analyzing genetic samples from 100,000 people around the globe.  The five-year Genographic Project, will use sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA to figure out the patterns in which people moved from one part of the world to another.

It is sponsored by the National Geographic Society and IBM.  "We're trying to figure out where we came from. It's a very simple human question," said Spencer Wells, the project's director and a population geneticist known for groundbreaking work in this field.  Researchers plan to collect blood samples from 10,000 indigenous people — those whose ancestors inhabited a land before Europeans or other outsiders arrived — at each of 10 sites around the world. Because indigenous people trace their ancestors back to the same land over considerable time, their DNA contains "key genetic markers that have remained relatively unaltered over hundreds of generations," project scientists said. That makes their genetics reliable indicators of ancient migratory patterns.

Most of the work that's been done so far has been based on genetic data from about 10,000 people. That has helped establish that people came from Africa within the last 60,000 years, but little is known about what migratory routes they followed off that continent or what happened over the last 10,000 years.  Genetic fingerprints help establish the patterns, enabling scientists to trace variations in genes to their origins.  For instance, scientists are not sure how the Americas were first populated, said Ajay Royyuru, the lead scientist for IBM. The first people may have come from Siberia and eastern Asia, or they may have been Europeans migrating over a frozen north Atlantic.  The goal of the project is to learn the journey that our ancestors traveled and hopefully answer the question of who we are and how we happened to be where we are," he said.

Learn about your own past
The project is also inviting participation from the general public, for a fee. People may buy a kit for $99.95 (plus shipping and handling) that will allow them to scrape the matter from the inside of their cheeks and send it in. They will receive information about their own migratory history, and their data will be included in the master database. Participants will receive updates on the project and other materials as well. Information on how to participate can be found on the project's Web site.  All information in the master database will be anonymous and researchers promise to keep individual identities confidential.

Wells said he is not concerned that the database might be skewed with samples from people who can afford to pay nearly $100 to participate, saying even nonrandom data will help scientists understand migration patterns.  Part of the proceeds will help fund the Genographic Legacy Project, which will support education and cultural preservation efforts among participating indigenous groups.  Project organizers said the result will include scientific papers, educational programming and a public database that can serve as a resource for scientists and researchers.

Blood samples will be collected from indigenous people by researchers based at 10 sites around the world: Shanghai, China; Moscow; Tamil Nadu, India; Beirut, Lebanon; Philadelphia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Paris; Melbourne, Australia; Minas Gerais, Brazil; Cambridge, England.
The $40 million is being funded in part by the Waitt Family Foundation.

Previously printed by MSNBC.com at URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5379014/

 DNA preserves Native American heritage
Could genetic testing help determine tribal rights?

By Adam Tanner     Updated: 10:15 p.m. ET March 25, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - The United States has treated its indigenous people poorly for much of its history, yet today thousands of people are anxious to show their Native American heritage and are turning to DNA testing for help.

Some white Americans have long claimed distant ties to Cherokee princesses or other legendary figures among the peoples whom explorer Christopher Columbus mistakenly called Indians.

Now Indian heritage — which can make a person eligible for federal assistance programs, qualify them for a share of tribal casino profits, or just satisfy their curiosity — can be determined through genetic testing. Advances in DNA screening have provided new tools to document Native American ancestry, although some say such data are open to be interpretation.

“If you are interested in determining your eligibility for Native American rights or just want to satisfy your curiosity, our ancestry DNA test is the only method available for this purpose today,” one firm, Genelex, advertises.

A question of fractions
Although U.S. citizens typically know the broad outlines of their ancestry, for Native Americans the exact fractions of their heritage can take on heightened importance.

Nineteenth-century treaties obligate the U.S. government to provide education, health care and other services to many tribes. Indian sovereignty also means tribes can set up casinos on reservations. Indian casinos now generate $18 billion annually, and the numbers are growing.

Many tribes set as a membership standard that a person must have at least one Indian grandparent or one great-grandparent. Others among the 562 federally recognized tribes require links to members on a tribal membership roll in past generations.

With individuals seeking to affirm membership in recognized tribes and dozens of unrecognized tribes seeking federal acknowledgment, commercial firms have in the last two years stepped up marketing of genetic ancestry tests. A positive test result is not sufficient to enable someone to claim Indian benefits, because they must prove a link to a specific tribe.

“Nobody else in this nation has to prove their ancestry except for American Indians,” said Ken Adams, chief of the Upper Mattaponni Tribe in Virginia, which is not recognized by the U.S. government. “It’s so ironic, because we were the original ones.”

Three types of tests
Since Genelex started offering the test more than a year ago, 600 people have paid $395 to learn the degree of their Native American heritage, said Kristine Ashcraft, director of client relations.

Firms such as Genelex offer three types of tests: on male ancestors, on female ancestors, and a third to determine a percentage of Native American, East Asian, Indo-European and African heritage.

DNAPrint, a company based in Sarasota, Fla., processes that third test, and has done it for 12,000 to 13,000 people since 2000, said firm director Richard Gabriel. DNAPrint uses data from South American Indians as a genetic reference point, he said.

Testing has its limits
Mark Shriver, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University who helped develop the DNAPrint ancestry test, cautions that without a filled-out family history, the DNA results prove little.

“Just simple belief in a test without considering all the other data is, you know, foolish,” he said. “The science is not simply true and objective. ... It is one clue in the picture.”

He cited one of his graduate students from France, whose test found a 14 percent Native American heritage. He said that number was likely the result of intermixing following the 13th-century invasion of Europe by Mongols, who hailed from the same region of Asia as the forefathers of Native Americans.

The DNA tests are also unable to differentiate between Indian tribes.

Who is an Indian?
The issue of who is an Indian also hangs over future generations. For members whose tribes share revenues from casino operations, marrying outside the tribe could have major financial implications.

As in many cultures, some parents encourage children to marry within the tribe, but some, especially in smaller tribes, see the request as very limiting.

“Everyone in the tribe is a distant cousin,” complained one 18-year-old Indian woman who works at a casino in the Pueblo of Acoma, N.M. She hoped to marry outside the tribe.

As important as identity is in Native American culture, for some the motivation for a DNA test is just curiosity.

“It’s growing in popularity much faster than any of our expectations,” said Terry Carmichael, vice president for sales and marketing at GeneTree, whose advertising asks, “Do you have Native American DNA?”

“A lot of people out there primarily want to find out if they have Native American ancestry, not for purposes of claiming rights to a casino, but more for their own understanding,” he said. “They want to be able to understand their ancestry a little bit more.”

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

Previously printed by MSNBC.com at  URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7298465/

 Genghis Khan DNA test attracts hordes of takers
Restaurant’s genetic gimmick proves popular — and hintsat resurgence of interest in Mongolian

By Jill Lawless
The Associated Press
Updated: 4:22 p.m. ET July 6, 2004

LONDON - A London restaurant is offering diners the chance to learn whether they are descended from the rampaging Mongol ruler Genghis Khan — and win a free meal if they are.

The promotion by the restaurant Shish has proved surprisingly popular, exemplifying how Genghis Khan, once reviled in the West as a tyrant, has gained new respect in his own country and among academics.

“We’ve had Mongolian people who’ve traveled across London to give us their details,” said Hugo Malik, bar manager of Shish, which is giving away one DNA test at each of its two London branches every day through Friday.

“They said, ’Granddad always used to tell us we were descended from Genghis Khan.”’

Granddad may have been right. Oxford Ancestors, the firm doing the testing, says as many as 17 million men in Central Asia share a pattern of Y chromosomes within their genetic sequences, indicating a common ancestor.

Because Genghis Khan conquered vast tracts of Asia and Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and sired many offspring, it was assumed that the men share his genetic fingerprint.

“He was an all-conquering tribal leader,” said David Ashworth, a geneticist and chief executive of Oxford Ancestors. “He took their cities, he took their land, he took their women.”

Because there are no known tissue samples from Genghis Khan, the genetic tests are based on an assessment of probabilities.

Boom in bioarchaeology
The tests are part of the burgeoning field of bioarchaeology, which uses biological techniques to learn about ancient ancestors. Oxford Ancestors, founded four years ago by Oxford University geneticist Bryan Sykes, offers DNA testing to people seeking to trace their genetic roots.

Sykes believes DNA testing can map humanity’s common ancestry. In 1994, he extracted genetic samples from the Iceman, a frozen 5,000-year-old corpse found in the Tyrolean Alps, and identified a woman in Britain as his descendant.

Sykes’ 2001 book, “The Seven Daughters of Eve,” claimed that 95 percent of Europeans were descended from seven tribal matriarchs — he dubbed them Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine and Jasmine — who lived between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago.

For $330, Oxford Ancestors will tell customers which maternal clan they belong to. The Genghis Khan test is part of a plan to do the same for paternal ancestry by mapping patterns of Y chromosomes, the genetic material handed down from fathers to sons that changes little over generations.

Women have two X chromosomes, while men carry one X chromosome and one Y — so only men can take the Genghis Khan test.

“At certain markers on the Y chromosome, if it matches the Genghis Khan pattern, then on the balance of probability you are descended from the Great Khan,” Ashworth said.

What's in a Mongolian name?
Shish, which specializes in grilled kebabs, said it was offering the tests to honor Mongolia’s decision to reintroduce surnames.

In the 1990s, Mongolia’s democratic government decided to reverse a 70-year-old policy that banned surnames in hopes of breaking the power of feudal clans. By June 30, more than half the population had chosen the name Borjigin, or Master of the Blue Wolf — Genghis Khan’s clan name.

It was the latest step in the rehabilitation of the Mongol ruler.

Reviled in the West as a bloodthirsty conqueror and condemned in communist Mongolia as a symbol of a backward past, Genghis Khan is now celebrated by Mongolians as the father of their nation.

Many Western academics also have reassessed his legacy, recasting him as a brilliant military tactician, innovative ruler and early globalizer whose empire, at one point stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Danube, saw an unprecedented mingling of goods and cultures.

Genghis Khan’s descendants should “feel a sense of pride that they are descended from such a successful leader of men,” Ashworth said.

“These ancient conquerors lived in a very different world to us, and where they got was because of their own hard work. We can’t really judge them morally.”

Previously printed by MSNBC.com at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5379014/

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