A new genetic analysis focusing on Jews from North Africa has provided an overall genetic map of the Jewish Diasporas. The findings support the historical record of Middle Eastern Jews settling in North Africa during Classical Antiquity, proselytizing and marrying local populations, and, in the process, forming distinct populations that stayed largely intact for more than 2,000 years. The study, led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, was published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"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," said study leader Harry Ostrer, M.D., professor of pathology, of genetics and of pediatrics at Einstein and director of genetic and genomic testing for the division of clinical pathology at Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Ostrer noted that obtaining a comprehensive genetic fingerprint of various Jewish subpopulations can help reveal genetic links to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other common diseases.
In a previous genetic analysis, the researchers showed that modern-day Sephardic (Greek and Turkish), Ashkenazi (Eastern European) and Mizrahi (Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian) Jews that originated in Europe and the Middle East are more related to each other than to their contemporary non-Jewish neighbors, with each group forming its own cluster within the larger Jewish population. Further, each group demonstrated Middle-Eastern ancestry and varying degrees of mixing with surrounding populations. Two of the major Jewish populations—Middle Eastern and European Jews—were found to have diverged from each other approximately 2,500 years ago.