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

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
News
i100
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Sport
footballBut the Newcastle United midfielder's news has 'left his mistress furious'
Extras
indybest
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

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style