A family affair: How genetic mixing has affected us all

From Mogul warriors to European traders on the Silk Road, a new map shows history’s great migrations have left a genetic mark on peoples across the world

Genghis Khan may have been the most famous ruler of what would become the largest empire the world has ever seen, but despite the Mongol realm collapsing long after his death scientists have now revealed the 13th-century warrior’s genetic legacy continues to this day.

The genetic histories of 95 different populations across the world – showing the likely impact of Khan’s transcontinental empire as well as European colonialism, the Arab slave trade and European traders on the Silk Road mixing with people in China – have been revealed for the first time. Displayed in an interactive map, the work identifies, dates and characterises genetic mixing between populations.

Research has already shown the Hazara people of Pakistan are partially descended from Mongol warriors, based on historical, linguistic and oral tradition. But a team from Oxford University and University College London has revealed clear evidence of Mongol DNA entering the population during 1306 – exactly 100 years after Genghis Khan was pronounced ruler of all Mongols.

Six other populations, from as far west as Turkey, showed similar evidence of genetic mixing with Mongols around the same time as soldiers had children with women from areas they conquered. The Uyghur people in China are estimated to have a 50 per cent proportion of ‘Mongol-like’ genetic mixture, Uzbheks a 39 per cent proportion. and Turkish eight per cent – showing a progressive west-ward decrease in Mongol ancestry.

Using what the authors have christened their “Globetrotter” technique, the map allows people to select a population revealing “past admixture events”. This reveals the histories of the genetic mixing that created them, between populations across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America spanning the past four millennia.

Dr Garrett Hellenthal, of the UCL Genetics Institute the study’s lead author, said the team was able to pinpoint the year or time frame when genetic mixing took place using genetic recombination – the biological process in which two DNA molecules exchange genetic information.

“Although individual mutations carry only weak signals about where a person is from, by adding information across the whole genome we can reconstruct these mixing events. Sometimes individuals sampled from nearby regions can have surprisingly different sources of mixing,” he said.

“For example, we identify distinct events happening at different times among groups sampled within Pakistan, with some inheriting DNA from sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps related to the Arab Slave Trade, others from East Asia, and yet another from ancient Europe. Nearly all our populations show mixing events, so they are very common throughout recent history and often involve people migrating over large distances.”

Sophisticated statistical analysis using genome data from 1,490 individuals across the 95 areas was used to identify “chunks” of DNA shared between individuals from different groups.

Co-author Dr Daniel Falush, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, said: “Each population has a particular genetic ‘palette’. If you were to paint the genomes of people in modern-day Maya, for example, you would use a mixed palette with colours from Spanish-like, West African and Native American DNA. This mix dates back to around 1670CE, consistent with historical accounts describing Spanish and West African people entering the Americas around that time.

“Though we can’t directly sample DNA from the groups that mixed in the past, we can capture much of the DNA of these original groups as persisting, within a mixed palette of modern-day groups.”

The UK showed no strong evidence of admixture, however. “This doesn’t mean something didn’t happen but British genetic mixture is generally made up from people of the same part of the world rather than from different genetic groups like we see elsewhere,” said Dr Hellenthal.

Dr Simon Myers, of Oxford University’s Department of Statistics and Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics who co-authored the study, said: “DNA really has the power to tell stories and uncover details of humanity’s past.

“For example, the DNA of the Tu people in modern China suggests that in around 1200, Europeans similar to modern Greeks mixed with an otherwise Chinese-like population. Plausibly, the source of this European-like DNA might be merchants travelling the nearby Silk Road.”

The team’s research, published in Science this week, could have implications for how DNA impacts health and disease in different groups.

“Some populations are more at risk of certain diseases than others, and drug efficacy is also known to vary significantly. Rare genetic mutations are particularly likely to show strong differences between populations, and understanding their role in our health is an area of intense current research efforts,” Dr Myers said.

“We hope in future to include even more detailed sequencing o spot these rare mutations and better understand their global spread. ”

Dr Hellenthal told The Independent future research would include a more detailed study of the UK’s genetic mixture. He said: “We’re looking at a more targeted approach in areas such as Ethiopia and a substantial number of groups in America. We’re also going to be studying the United Kingdom to get a better genetic picture of local regions.”

View the map at http://admixturemap.paintmychromosomes.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own