"Long before it's in the papers"
March 09, 2015

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Millions of modern men found to be descendants of 11 kingpins

March 9, 2015
Courtesy of University of Leicester
and World Science staff

Ge­neti­cists have dis­cov­ered that mil­lions of mod­ern Asian men are de­scended from 11 pow­er­ful dy­nas­tic lead­ers who lived up to 4,000 years ago—in­clud­ing Mon­go­li­an war­lord Genghis Khan.

The stu­dy, from the Uni­vers­ity of Leices­ter in the U.K. and pub­lished in the Eu­ro­pe­an Jour­nal of Hu­man Ge­net­ics, ex­am­ined the ma­le-specific Y chro­mo­some, which is pas­sed from fa­ther to son, in more than 5,000 Asian men from 127 popula­t­ions.

Most Y-chro­mo­some types are very rare, but the team found 11 types that were rel­a­tively com­mon across the sam­ple, and stud­ied their dis­tri­bu­tions and his­to­ries. Two com­mon male lin­eages have been dis­cov­ered be­fore, and have been as­cribed to one well-known his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, Genghis Khan, and an­oth­er less-known one, Gio­cangga. 

The Leices­ter team found ge­net­ic links via a chain of male an­ces­tors to both Genghis Khan and Gio­cangga, in ad­di­tion to nine oth­er dy­nas­tic lead­ers who orig­i­nat­ed from through­out Asia and date back to be­tween 2100 BC and 700 AD.

“The youngest lin­eages, orig­i­nat­ing in the last 1700 years, are found in pas­to­ral no­mad­ic popula­t­ions, who were highly mo­bile horse-riders and could spread their Y chro­mo­somes far and wide,” said proj­ect lead­er Mark Jobling of the uni­vers­ity.

“For these lin­eages to be­come so com­mon, their pow­er­ful founders needed to have many sons by many wom­en, and to pass their sta­tus—as well as their Y chro­mo­somes—on to them. The sons, in turn, could then have many sons, too. It’s a kind of trans-genera­t­ion am­plifica­t­ion ef­fec­t.”

Study co-author Pa­tri­cia Balaresque, now at Uni­ver­sité Paul Sa­ba­tier in Tou­louse, added: “I­den­ti­fying the an­ces­tors re­spon­si­ble for these lin­eages will be dif­fi­cult or im­pos­si­ble, as it would rely on find­ing their re­mains and ex­tract­ing and an­a­lyz­ing an­cient DNA. This has­n’t yet been done for Genghis Khan, for ex­am­ple, so the ev­i­dence re­mains cir­cum­stantial, if pret­ty con­vinc­ing.”


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Geneticists have discovered that millions of modern Asian men are descended from 11 powerful dynastic leaders who lived up to 4,000 years ago—including Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan. The study, from the University of Leicester in the U.K. and published in the European Journal of Human Genetics, examined the male-specific Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son, in more than 5,000 Asian men belonging to 127 populations. Most Y-chromosome types are very rare, but the team discovered 11 types that were relatively common across the sample and studied their distributions and histories. Two common male lineages have been discovered before, and have been ascribed to one well-known historical figure, Genghis Khan, and another less-known one, Giocangga. The Leicester team found genetic links via a chain of male ancestors to both Genghis Khan and Giocangga, in addition to nine other dynastic leaders who originated from throughout Asia and date back to between 2100 BC and 700 AD. “The youngest lineages, originating in the last 1700 years, are found in pastoral nomadic populations, who were highly mobile horse-riders and could spread their Y chromosomes far and wide,” said project leader Mark Jobling of the university. “For these lineages to become so common, their powerful founders needed to have many sons by many women, and to pass their status—as well as their Y chromosomes—on to them. The sons, in turn, could then have many sons, too. It’s a kind of trans-generation amplification effect.” Study co-author Patricia Balaresque, now at Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, added: “Identifying the ancestors responsible for these lineages will be difficult or impossible, as it would rely on finding their remains and extracting and analysing ancient DNA. This hasn’t yet been done for Genghis Khan, for example, so the evidence remains circumstantial, if pretty convincing.”