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Jewish Genome Shows Unexpected Diversity

EMORY UNIVERSITY School of Medicine (pictured) researchers discovered that the Ashkenazi Jewish population is genetically more varied than people of European ancestry, despite a prevailing belief that Ashkenazi Jews are an isolated population.

According to an Aug. 26 University press release, researchers in the laboratory of Stephen Warren, chairman of human genetics at the School of Medicine, utilized DNA microarray technology to explore variant sites across the genomes of 471 Ashkenazi Jews. The research is a collaboration between Warren and Ann Pulver, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Steven Bray, a postdoctoral fellow in Warren’s laboratory, said Ashkenazi Jews probably interbred with the host Europeans after settling in 1000 A.D.

Bray explained that one possibility may be that European males introduced something new into the Jewish gene pool because according to Jewish tradition, religion is passed through the mother rather than the father. This, he said, is called admixture, a genetic term relating to the intermarrying of Europeans and the Jews. Bray said the study’s conclusion, which shows higher levels of heterozygosity — the presence of two different alleles of the same gene — in the Ashkenazi Jewish genome, illustrates more conclusively that there has been more intermarrying.

“As far as the overall take-home message, I don’t know if it changes a whole lot as far as [how] people view the Jews necessarily, but the Jews are used a lot because in a lot of genetic studies, you want to reduce the rate of genetic diversity to look at a greater rate of statistical diversity. [This study] may make people think twice about how necessary or advantageous that is.”

Read the full article at the Emory Wheel

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