, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 119-127,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 10 Oct 2012

The population genetics of the Jewish people

Abstract

Adherents to the Jewish faith have resided in numerous geographic locations over the course of three millennia. Progressively more detailed population genetic analysis carried out independently by multiple research groups over the past two decades has revealed a pattern for the population genetic architecture of contemporary Jews descendant from globally dispersed Diaspora communities. This pattern is consistent with a major, but variable component of shared Near East ancestry, together with variable degrees of admixture and introgression from the corresponding host Diaspora populations. By combining analysis of monoallelic markers with recent genome-wide variation analysis of simple tandem repeats, copy number variations, and single-nucleotide polymorphisms at high density, it has been possible to determine the relative contribution of sex-specific migration and introgression to map founder events and to suggest demographic histories corresponding to western and eastern Diaspora migrations, as well as subsequent microevolutionary events. These patterns have been congruous with the inferences of many, but not of all historians using more traditional tools such as archeology, archival records, linguistics, comparative analysis of religious narrative, liturgy and practices. Importantly, the population genetic architecture of Jews helps to explain the observed patterns of health and disease-relevant mutations and phenotypes which continue to be carefully studied and catalogued, and represent an important resource for human medical genetics research. The current review attempts to provide a succinct update of the more recent developments in a historical and human health context.