Research highlight

Genetics: Genes give clues to where in the World you came from

Nature Communications

April 30, 2014

Accurate prediction of the geographic origin of individuals using their genetic data is reported in research published in Nature Communications. The method employed in this study allows for the utilization of biological information to accurately predict the place of origin of human’s DNA on a global scale and raises the possibility of precise genetic ancestry testing becoming a reality.

Genetic information is used in biology as a tool to identify the population of origin of many organisms. In the case of humans, it has been used to infer historical migrations, including the out-of-Africa event, when humans first ventured into Asia, or the origin of the modern Europeans. However, using this information to pinpoint modern individuals’ places of origin has been subject to limited success. Indeed, biogeographical algorithms have previously achieved an accuracy of 700km in Europe but they were found to be inaccurate elsewhere.

Eran Elhaik and colleagues now create the Geographical Population Structure (GPS) algorithm, which was developed using accurate genetic and geographical information provided anonymously by volunteer participants of the Genographic Project. Using three datasets, they show that GPS can accurately place 83% of worldwide individuals in their country of origin. When tested on 200 Sardinians, GPS placed a quarter of them in their villages and most of the rest within 50km of their home villages. The authors suggest that this method’s accuracy and power to infer the biogeography of worldwide individuals down to their country or, in some cases, village, of origin, could be of use in genealogical research, and may promote new thinking about how population size, genetic diversity, and environment have shaped human population structure.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms4513

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