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Where in the World

Researchers led by the National Geographic Society's Spencer Wells and the Genographic Consortium report in Nature Communications that they've developed an admixture-based approach to pinpoint to where in the world an individual may trace his or her origins.

The researchers tested this Geographic Population Structure, or GPS, algorithm on three datasets using between 40,000 SNPs and 130,000 SNPs. This approach, they say, could determine the country of origin of 83 percent of worldwide individuals, and that it was even more accurate in placing people belonging to isolated populations.

For some 200 Sardinian villagers, for example, Wells and his colleagues were able to, using GPS, place a quarter of them within their villages and many of the rest within 50 kilometers of their villages.

However, for people with mixed ancestry, the algorithm typically placed them at the halfway point between the two countries of origin of their parents. First author Eran Elhaik from the University of Sheffield tells LiveScience that they hope the next version of the algorithm will be able to disentangle the countries of origin of the parents of a person with mixed ancestry.