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Tracing Roots

The maternal lineage of Ashkenazi Jews traces back to Europe, according to a new study in Nature Communications from researchers led by the University of Leed's Martin Richards. The paternal lineage as been traced separately using the Y chromosome to the Near East.

Previous work had indicated four major and a number of minor population founders, and Richards and his colleagues analyzed hundreds of mitogenomes from a number of possible source populations, including haplogroup U8 and its subclade haplogroup K, from people in Europe and the Near East as well as nearly 30,000 mitogenomes from European, Near East, and Caucasus populations.

From this, they drew up phylogenetic trees and estimated that more than 80 percent of Ashkenazi mtDNAs originated in Europe, 8 percent in the Near East, and the remainder couldn't be resolved. "[T]he maternal lineages mainly trace back to prehistoric Western Europe," the researchers write.

Duke University's David Goldstein tells the New York Times that, while the study was well done, the 80 percent estimate is likely off due to the random nature of mitochondrial lineages.