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Genetic Research Sheds Light on Jewish Diaspora

Jews originating in North Africa more related to each other than their non-Jewish neighbors, study shows

TUESDAY, Aug. 7, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- A new genetic analysis of Jews from North Africa provides evidence that Middle Eastern Jews settled in the region during Classical Antiquity, married local populations and formed distinct populations that remained largely intact for more than 2,000 years.

The study was led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, in New York City.

"Our new findings define North African Jews, complete the overall population structure for the various groups of the Jewish Diaspora and enhance the case for a biological basis for Jewishness," study leader author Dr. Harry Ostrer, a professor of pathology, genetics and pediatrics at Einstein and director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of clinical pathology at Montefiore Medical Center, said in a university news release.

Ostrer's team added that a full genetic fingerprint of various Jewish subpopulations could point to genetic links for common diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

In conducting the analysis of North African Jews (the second largest Jewish Diaspora group) the researchers analyzed the genetic make-up of 509 Jews from 15 populations. They also examined the genetic information of 114 participants from seven North African non-Jewish populations.

The study found North African Jews often married within their own religious and cultural group, adhering to Jewish custom.

The researchers also identified two major subgroups within the population of North African Jews: Moroccan/Algerian Jews and Djerban (Tunisian)/Libyan Jews. Moroccan/Algerian Jews tended to be more related to Europeans. The researchers noted this was probably due to the fact that Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition starting in 1492.

Their analysis also revealed that Ethiopian and Yemenite Jewish populations and Georgian Jews formed genetically linked groups.

The findings were published online Aug. 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute to learn more about genetic mapping.

SOURCE: Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, news release, Aug. 6, 2012
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