If tracing ancestors through DNA wasn’t futuristic enough already, genetic technology for genealogy is set to get even better.
A team of researchers at Edinburgh University recently tried to trace ancestors to a level of precision previously unheard of. Current technologies can tell you which country or even which province your ancestors came from, but aren’t able to do much better than that.
“We’ve just worked up recently to telling apart, in one study at least, people who came from the north of Italy and people who came from Tuscany,” said lead researcher Jim Wilson. “I just wanted to see what the limit of this was, how far you can go.”
Dr Wilson enlisted volunteers whose grandparents had come from the same village in Scotland, Croatia, or Italy. None of the volunteers were related to each other.
The results found that genetics could predict the correct village of origin for 100% of the Italian volunteers, 96% of the Scottish sample, and 89% of the Croatian sample. They explained the pattern by arguing that, since long ago people tended to marry within their own community, after several generations different villages developed their own genetic ‘fingerprint’.
“We had samples from villages very close together,” said Dr Wilson. “We were able to ask whether you can tell people apart from basically next door.”
The research team hopes these techniques will become commercially viable in the near future. “People are very interested in the past and where they come from,” said Dr Wilson. “I think a lot of people in the New World – Canada, Australia – are interested in where they come from. They’ll do their family tree and they’ll hit a brick wall. The paper records run out and they’re still stuck in Virginia in 1770 and they can’t get beyond that. They’re the people who are very interested to see whether their family stories are true.”
The details of the study can be read in The European Journal of Human Genetics. The full article (journal access may be required) can be found here. Further information can also be found in an article on the Daily Mail website.
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