The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people

Doron M. Behar, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Ene Metspalu, Saharon Rosset, Jüri Parik, Siiri Rootsi, Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Ildus Kutuev, Guennady Yudkovsky, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Oleg Balanovsky, Ornella Semino, Luisa Pereira, David Comas, David Gurwitz, Batsheva Bonne-Tamir, Tudor Parfitt, Michael F. Hammer, Karl SkoreckiRichard Villems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

310 Scopus citations


Contemporary Jews comprise an aggregate of ethno-religious communities whose worldwide members identify with each other through various shared religious, historical and cultural traditions 1,2. Historical evidence suggests common origins in the Middle East, followed by migrations leading to the establishment of communities of Jews in Europe, Africa and Asia, in what is termed the Jewish Diaspora3-5. This complex demographic history imposes special challenges in attempting to address the genetic structure of the Jewish people6. Although many genetic studies have shed light on Jewish origins and on diseases prevalent among Jewish communities, including studies focusing on uniparentally and biparentally inherited markers7-16, genome-wide patterns of variation across the vast geographic span of Jewish Diaspora communities and their respective neighbours have yet to be addressed. Here we use high-density bead arrays to genotype individuals from 14 Jewish Diaspora communities and compare these patterns of genome-wide diversity with those from 69 Old World non-Jewish populations, of which 25 have not previously been reported. These samples were carefully chosen to provide comprehensive comparisons between Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Diaspora, as well as with non-Jewish populations from the Middle East and north Africa. Principal component and structure-like analyses identify previously unrecognized genetic substructure within the Middle East. Most Jewish samples form a remarkably tight subcluster that overlies Druze and Cypriot samples but not samples from other Levantine populations or paired Diaspora host populations. In contrast, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel) and Indian Jews (Bene Israel and Cochini) cluster with neighbouring autochthonous populations in Ethiopia and western India, respectively, despite a clear paternal link between the Bene Israel and the Levant. These results cast light on the variegated genetic architecture of the Middle East, and trace the origins of most Jewish Diaspora communities to the Levant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-242
Number of pages5
Issue number7303
StatePublished - 8 Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank the individuals who provided DNA samples for this study, including the National Laboratory for the Genetics of Israeli Populations; Mari Nelis, Georgi Hudjashov and Viljo Soo for conducting the autosomal genotyping; Lauri Anton for computational help. R.V. and D.M.B. thank the European Commission, Directorate-General for Research for FP7 Ecogene grant 205419. R.V. thanks the European Union, Regional Development Fund through a Centre of Excellence in Genomics grant and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies for support during the initial stage of this study. E.M. and Si.R. thank the Estonian Science Foundation for grants 7858 and 7445, respectively. K.S. thanks the Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert Foundation fund of the American Technion Society. Sa.R. thanks the European Union for Marie Curie International Reintegration grant CT-2007-208019, and the Israeli Science Foundation for grant 1227/09. IPATIMUP is an Associate Laboratory of the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education and is partly supported by Fundac¸ão para a Ciência ea Tecnologia, the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.


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