Ashkenazi Jewish Single Origins Study

Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People

Harry Ostrer, M.D.
Professor and Director
Human Genetics Program
New York University School of Medicine

Who are the Jews? For more than a century, Jews and non-Jews alike have tried to define the relatedness of contemporary Jewish people. Previous genetic studies of blood groups and serum proteins suggested that Jewish groups had Middle Eastern origins with greater genetic similarity between pairs of Jewish populations than between Jewish and non-Jewish populations. However, these and successor studies of Y chromosomal and mitochondrial genetic markers did not resolve the issues of within and between-group Jewish genetic identity.

Over the past two years, Dr. Ostrer and his colleagues have analyzed the whole genomes of sixteen Jewish groups (Iranian, Iraqi, Yemenite, Georgian, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, Libyan, Tunisian, Djerban, Algerian, Moroccan, and Bene Israel) using DNA chips and compared their patterns of variation with each other and those of worldwide non-Jewish groups. Most Jewish groups form distinct genetic clusters, with shared Middle Eastern ancestry and variably degrees of European and North African admixture. The demonstrable genetic divide between Middle Eastern and European Jews occurred over 2,500 years ago (Babylonian exile). Southern European populations show the greatest proximity to Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Italian Jews, reflecting the large-scale southern European conversion and admixture known to have occurred over 2,000 years ago (formation of European Jewry). An apparent North African ancestry component was present in Sephardic groups reflecting gene flow (La Conviviencia). The rapid decay of long shared segments of DNA indicates a severe bottleneck followed by expansion in the Ashkenazi Jewish population (Demographic Miracle 1500-1900). Thus, these studies have demonstrated that the history of the Jewish Diasporas is reflected in the genomes of Jewish people. The studies are being extended to other Jewish groups and to possible reconstruction of Eastern European Jewish communities (Ashkenazi Jewish Single Origins Study).

We will be recruiting individuals to enroll in the Ashkenazi Jewish Single Origins Study during the IAJGS conference. If you are interested in possibly enrolling, please follow this link to complete a brief eligibility questionnaire prior to the conference:

This will allow us to determine if you are eligible and follow up with you to arrange a time for an enrollment appointment at the conference. Please note that completing this survey or making an enrollment appointment in no way requires you to participate in the study.

A full discussion of this presentation, Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People by Harry Ostrer, will be published by Oxford University Press.