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Pitfalls of the geographic population structure (GPS) approach applied to human genetic history: a case study of Ashkenazi Jews

Flegontov, P; Kassian, A; Thomas, MG; Fedchenko, V; Changmai, P; Starostin, G; (2016) Pitfalls of the geographic population structure (GPS) approach applied to human genetic history: a case study of Ashkenazi Jews. Genome Biology and Evolution , 8 (7) pp. 2259-2265. 10.1093/gbe/evw162. Green open access

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Abstract

In a recent interdisciplinary study, Das and co-authors have attempted to trace the homeland of Ashkenazi Jews and of their historical language, Yiddish (Das et al. 2016. Localizing Ashkenazic Jews to Primeval Villages in the Ancient Iranian Lands of Ashkenaz. Genome Biology and Evolution). Das and co-authors applied the geographic population structure (GPS) method to autosomal genotyping data and inferred geographic coordinates of populations supposedly ancestral to Ashkenazi Jews, placing them in Eastern Turkey. They argued that this unexpected genetic result goes against the widely accepted notion of Ashkenazi origin in the Levant, and speculated that Yiddish was originally a Slavic language strongly influenced by Iranian and Turkic languages, and later remodeled completely under Germanic influence. In our view, there are major conceptual problems with both the genetic and linguistic parts of the work. We argue that GPS is a provenancing tool suited to inferring the geographic region where a modern and recently unadmixed genome is most likely to arise, but is hardly suitable for admixed populations and for tracing ancestry up to 1000 years before present, as its authors have previously claimed. Moreover, all methods of historical linguistics concur that Yiddish is a Germanic language, with no reliable evidence for Slavic, Iranian, or Turkic substrata.

Type: Article
Title: Pitfalls of the geographic population structure (GPS) approach applied to human genetic history: a case study of Ashkenazi Jews
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evw162
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evw162
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author(s) 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (CC BY-NC 4.0) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com
Keywords: Ashkenazi Jews, Yiddish, geographic population structure, population genetics, relexification
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Div of Biosciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Div of Biosciences > Genetics, Evolution and Environment
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1503758
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