MAY 6 2014 @ 3:05PM
Geneticists Eran Elhaik and Tatiana Tatarinova have developed a fascinating new tool, which they call the Geographic Population Structure (GPS), that allows anyone to identify where their ancestors came from as far back as 1,000 years ago. The technology has a much greater degree of accuracy than previous methods:
Previously, scientists have only been able to locate where your DNA was formed to within 700km, which in Europe could be two countries away; however this pioneering technique has been 98 per cent successful in locating worldwide populations to their right geographic regions, and down to their village and island of origin. The breakthrough of knowing where the gene pools that created your DNA were last mixed has massive implications for life-saving personalised medicine, advancing forensic science and for the study of populations whose ancestral origins are under debate, such as African Americans, Roma gypsies and European Jews.
Jordan Pearson explains why the GPS is so precise:
The increased accuracy of the new model is based on a simple, if controversial, assumption made by the study authors: that race doesn’t exist.
“The model of races is incorrect and should be dismissed,” Elhaik told me in an email. Up until now, tracing genetic origins assumed that people could be typified as a mix of two to three defined races, presupposing a homogenous “European” identity, Elhaik said. “By contrast, GPS represents a paradigm shift in population genetics whereby all populations are considered admixed to various degrees.”
Admixing occurs when one gene pool mixes with another to create a whole new one. You can think of it like how primary colours mix to create new palettes and shades—“red” people from region A breed with “blue” people from region B, creating a new group of “purple” people, genetically speaking. What the study assumed, if you’ll forgive the analogy a moment longer, is that there aren’t purely “red,” “yellow,” or “blue” people in terms of genetic makeup; we’re all somewhere in between, and every population worldwide displays a certain amount of admixing.