Research Press Release

Genetics: Ashkenazi maternal lineages may originate in Europe

Nature Communications

October 9, 2013

Sequencing of Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA reveals that maternal Jewish lineages may have a European origin. The study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that maternal lineages were not brought from the Near East or Caucasus, as sometimes believed, but rather originated within Mediterranean Europe.

The origins of Ashkenazi Jews remain highly controversial. Reconstructing relationships using genetic information on the paternally inherited Y chromosome, the maternally inherited mitochondria and the bi-parentally inherited autosomes have suggested contradictory conclusions. While some point to a primarily Near Eastern ancestry - a region that includes Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan - others suggest a largely Caucasian ancestry.

Martin Richards and colleagues sequenced 74 mitochondrial genomes and analysed more than 3,500 mitochondrial genomes from across Europe, the Caucasus and the Near East to provide a detailed reconstruction of Ashkenazi genealogical history. The team show that at least 80% of the variation in Ashkenazi mitochondrial DNA has ancestry in prehistoric Europe, rather than the Near East or Caucasus. This implies that female Ashkenazi Jews may have been assimilated in Europe around 2,000 years ago.

They suggest that these results highlight the importance of the recruitment of local women and conversion in the formation of Ashkenazi communities in Europe and represent an important step in the reconstruction of Ashkenazi genealogical history.

DOI:10.1038/ncomms3543 | Original article

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