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June 3rd, 2010
05:02 PM ET

Abraham's children in the genome era

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Even before the days of Moses, Jewish people have had a special bond. Because they share a history, culture and faith many Jews tend to marry Jews. And because they marry within their group, some Jewish people have a predisposition to certain illnesses and genetic disorders that other groups do not.

Studies have shown conditions such as Crohn's disease, Gaucher's disease, Tay-Sachs, colon cancer and breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are now a direct result of mutated genes within these Jewish populations and that these conditions are unusually common among Ashkenazi Jews - Jews who have ancestors from Eastern and Central Europe. These same diseases can affect Sephardic Jews and non-Jews, but they affect Ashkenazi Jews more often – as much as 20 to 100 times more frequently. Certain disorders tend to be more common among  Ashkenazi Jews due to a "genetic drift," because for centuries, due to political and religious reasons, Ashkenazi Jews were genetically isolated from the population at large. But as the years passed, the Jewish population became widely dispersed and now many areas of the world have large Jewish populations. So it's tougher to keep track of them as group.

n an effort to provide a detailed genetic map of major Jewish subpopulations, scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and New York University School of Medicine have used state-of-the-art genetic analysis to track Jews from different regions of the world.

A total of 237 participants were recruited from Jewish communities in the metropolitan New York region, Seattle, Athens, Rome and Israel. Subjects were included only if all four grandparents came from the same Jewish community. The results were compared with a genetic analysis of 418 people from non-Jewish groups around the world. By performing a genome-wide analysis of the three major groups formed by the Diasporas (the scattering of Jews into Europe, and throughout the Middle East): Eastern European Ashkenazim; Italian, Greek, and Turkish Sephardim; and Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian Mizrahi Jews, researchers found that Jews from the major Diaspora groups formed a distinct population cluster, although they were closely related to European and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations.

"The study supports the idea of a Jewish people linked by a shared genetic history," says principal investigator, Dr. Harry Ostrer, a professor of pediatrics, pathology and medicine at NYU. "Yet the admixture with European people explains why so many European and Syrian Jews have blue eyes and blond hair."

Also the study provided researchers with data on Jewish subpopulations that could be used to study the genetic origins of certain diseases.

"This study provides new genomic information that can benefit not only those of Jewish ancestry, but the population at large," said co-author Edward Burns, M.D., executive dean and professor of pathology and of medicine at Einstein. "By providing a comprehensive genetic fingerprint of various Jewish subpopulations, it can help us understand genetic links to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other common diseases."

While lead author Gil Atzmon, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and of genetics at Einstein,  adds, "With this established, we'll be able to more easily identify genes associated with complex disorders like diabetes that are determined by multiple variants across the genome. Armed with this information, we will be better positioned to treat patients."


soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Robert Allen

    Dr. Gupta:

    You might want to compare notes and/or research with Dr. Spencer Wells of the National Geographic sponsored Genographic Project. His data on the Human Genome is quite detailed both on their Web Site and in His published research.

    Bob
    Las Vegas

    June 3, 2010 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Dorian

    Just any fyi regarding Tay-Sachs. Ashkenazi Jews are routinely tested before having children to prevent their children being born with this disease. When my husband and i went for genetic testing, we were told that actually Italian Catholics and French Canadians have a higher rate of Tay-Sachs now then Ashkenazi Jews do.

    June 3, 2010 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Eliana

    This is great news. Even today, I was helping my nephew in Brazil to obtain information on some equipment for DNA testing for a DNA lab she is mounting in Goiania, Goiaz, Brazil. For now, he is doing Bovine DNA maping, but has plans to extend it to Human DNA mapping very soon as well. Being of the house of Israel, and knowing about the gathering of the Tribes of Israel in these last days, I am exceedingly happy with the news on this article.
    Thank you for this great work..

    June 3, 2010 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Khawla

    Stupid article..so then that should apply to the christians too?! All Christians of Europe, Americas & Africa are actually from the Middle East just because christianity was founded there!! LOL

    Just becase there are European Jews doesn't mean they come from The Middle East..Judaism is not a race..it's a religion just like Christianity!! that's how some have blue eyes n blond here..they are EUROPEANS..DUH!!

    June 3, 2010 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Curious

    Would be nice to see this sort of methodology applied to the varied ethnic populations around the globe!

    June 3, 2010 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Arthur

    is this a study about impacts of inbreeding ?
    If a culture basically kept to itself and progenated within its own ranks then the risk, or actual incidence, of mutations leading to occurrences of diseases within that group is greater – isn't that what the article is saying ??????

    June 3, 2010 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. kaz

    I know this will bring charges of chauvinism but does this genetic "inbreeding" have a flip side. Does it also explain the unusual number of Jews who are chess grand masters, Noble winners in physics, medicine etc. The numbers do not seem explainable just by the usual Jews emphasize education.

    June 3, 2010 at 21:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Avi Shlomo

    Nothing new as I recall a Spanish scientist studied the genetic comoposition of Palestinias and Israelis about 10 years ago" manily no european Jews and showed both have the same genetic fingerprint. Sadly the racist zionist had the paper retracted from the Journal Sicnece because he commented on the Israeli attrocities by stating that it was sad for people who are so related to suffer on the hands of their cousins.

    June 3, 2010 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jack

    Do these genetic defects explain why the Jews are so liberal and evil on issues like the murder of unborn children and the rights of the perverse... and why they are intent on taking over the media, the courts and the school system in order to brain wash the rest of us?

    June 3, 2010 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Shayna

    Having seen my family's history, laid back over nearly 1,000 years, this is hardly a surprise... that and my family's genetic predisposition toward breast cancer courtesy of the BRCA gene mutations. Similarly, genetic testing for Tay-Sachs has been a standard procedure for Jewish couples marrying since the 1980s... we are a people beyond the definitons of race, religion, and culture. It is remarkable, even now.

    You can find me at Life: Forward (http://TheLifeForward.com) talking about women, the wage gender gap, and body image.

    June 3, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Levi

    interesting that "God's Chosen People" are a key into genetic disease research, and therefore, future protection of our species.

    June 4, 2010 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Darlene Berges

    What about the population that thinks they are not Jewish, but DNA finds that they are Ashkenazi Jews? If you only look at those who follow the Jewish faith, one many not have a good idea of what larger group of
    Ashkenazi Jews are of a different culture background.

    June 4, 2010 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Wondering

    Since they can show that Jewish populations share a common genetic sequence, I am wondering if it is possible to test if I have any Jewish ancestry. Supposedly my great grandmother was a Lithuanian Jew that escaped the pogroms there alone before making it to the USA.

    Since she died before I was born and I have no evidence of her ancestry other than a name at Ellis Island, I was wondering if I could be tested to confirm my identity.

    June 4, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. thebassguy

    "Jews are so liberal and evil on issues like the murder of unborn children and the rights of the perverse... and why they are intent on taking over the media, the courts and the school system in order to brain wash the rest of us?"

    Jack, this is so wrong and offensive on so many levels. You MUST be a comedian or your hate must be eating you alive. We pity folks like you.

    June 4, 2010 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Robert Ray

    Very interesting that the chosen people are killing themselves because they do not have the ability to think for themselves..Being told how to think and being controlled by a lie,a fantasy and imaginary friends. God killing his own out of ignorance. PITIFUL

    June 4, 2010 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. rain.here

    @Khawla

    Judaism is both a race and a religion...DUH!

    June 4, 2010 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Brooose

    Reading these comments, I finally reach the inescapable conclusion that the world is filled with all kinds of people, many smart, many stupid, many open minded and many racist morons, and this is. I guess this is what makes the world go round....

    June 4, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Robert

    Jack:

    You need help, badly....perhaps a Jewish psychologist?

    June 4, 2010 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. SciChick

    My parents are from two different inbred populations, eastern European Jews and french Canadian Catholics. If studies are done on inbred populations other then Jews, would we be able to predict mutation overlap prior to marriage? This would be very beneficial since both my lineages have a high rate of Tay-Sachs even though they originated in very different locations, and my parents didn't realized that until after they were pregnant.

    June 4, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Katie

    very, very true words Brooose.

    Genealogy is a big hobby of mine, so I find this article fascinating. I think I read somewhere before that either Ashkanazi or Sephardic Jews can almost all be traced back to four women. imho, that's pretty neat. Makes one realize how truly connected we all are.

    June 4, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Gregg

    I'm curious, given the biblical blood relationship dating to Abraham, how closely does the DNA/Genome studied here match or compare to the Arabic Arab/Moslem population?

    June 4, 2010 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. dreanhunk

    I don't believe for a second here is why DNA can be faked

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsnh29ZG-60&w=640&h=390]

    also ancient Hebrews don't look white forensic science of ancient Hebrews

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8nUr5Lv7-Y&w=640&h=390]

    Number 2 there were no white in the land at the time

    June 4, 2010 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. dreanhunk

    sorry Number 2 there were no white people in the land at the time

    if you believe in creationism the map of ham and shem would be like this

    If you believe in evaluation who was first blacks or whites

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aTGcv6eFyM&w=640&h=390]

    June 4, 2010 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. dreanhunk

    also this is the ultimate proof that Ashkenazi Jews don't look like this

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIFQkhDQTh4&w=640&h=390]

    What this article left out is that Jews are genetically identical to Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Also the article left out that Tay Sachs is just as common in the French in Canada and the Cajuns in the United States. I doubt the comment box will allow me to post sources but legitimate science websites can be found with a quick Google search that confirm this.

    June 4, 2010 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. dreanhunk

    also i recommend looking up historians such as Josephus about the ancient Hebrews

    June 4, 2010 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. dreanhunk

    The populations that the samples were taken from are a minority within the Jewish population. This study is deeply flawed by selecting only certain segments of the Jewish population that are more likely to be related to the original Middle Eastern genome population. Just look at how many blue eyed, blonde haired Jews there are. They're obviously not Middle Eastern. The modern day Jew is mostly of Euroean origin rather than Middle Eastern. Jewish people of Middle Eastern descent are now the minority.

    June 5, 2010 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Robert Emory

    Kawla's comments are absurd. Yes, the Jews are a distinct ethnic people, in addition to their "practicing" the religion of Judaism. DUH. Read their history which begins with the 12 tribes mentioned in the Bible. Amazing how ridiculous some people's comments are.

    June 5, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Steve Loy

    How far north are Breathing problems being repoted due to the oil spill? I live in Ok., 74820, For the last 10 days I have had breathing trouble. Today I fell like I have contracted pnumonia with an active flem problem that is painful to cough out

    June 6, 2010 at 08:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. boris

    Kaz, what you wrote in your comment is the base for one of theories explaining high IQ of Ashkenazi Jews. If you are interested to know more read books "Bell Curve" and "Global Bell Curve".

    June 6, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Raish Lakish

    The European traits are not why many Jews have blond Hair and blue eyes. If you are familiar with Biblical text, namely Tanakh and the Talmud
    there are descriptions of the outward appearance of the Patriarchs and the tribes. Each one of the twelve tribes had specific traits that set them apart from the other tribes, They were inherited from Jacobs 12 sons and their wives. Without getting into too much detail Moses was caucasian but his wife Zipora and his father inlaw Jethro were of African appearance. King David was described as having bright red hair, does that mean he was Irish?lol White , Black and olive skin traits were Jewish
    Traits from the beginning.

    June 6, 2010 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Dee

    @Robert Ray "Very interesting that the chosen people are killing themselves because they do not have the ability to think for themselves" What on earth are you talking about???

    June 6, 2010 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Ann

    Jack – you're already brain washed

    June 6, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.