Monday, July 20, 2009

Paternal Haplogroup: I

My brother ended up doing the Y-chromosome genetic test to determine our direct patrilinear descent (and I thank him dearly for that). The answer that came back a few days ago from GenoMed, the Lisbon-based company which carried out the test, was: haplogroup I (defined by a single mutation called M170).

The GenoMed site explains:

The first populations belonging to group I originated in Southern Europe, immediately before the last Ice Age. Their ancestors arrived in Europe through a migration route starting in the Middle East and ending in the present-day region of the Balkans. (…) During the Ice Age (20 to 12 thousand years ago), these populations remained confined to climatic refuges predominantly situated on the shores of the Dead Sea and in the Balkans. Later, when climatic conditions improved, (…) they started reclaiming the land and spreading their offspring all over Europe.


Today, group I represents nearly one fifth of the European genetic pool. (…) Group I lineages predominate in Scandinavia and in the Balkans. The highest frequencies (nearly 40%) are detected in the populations of Herzegovina, Croatia, Bosnia, Sardinia and Scandinavia.

And finally:

The genetic group I is not usually associated to Jewish ancestrality.

This last sentence reminded me of a memorable scene in the Woody Allen classic Annie Hall. In it, the main character, Alvy Singer, makes the following remark during a flashback to his childhood: “My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”

I apologize to all those who might be shocked by the very bad taste of this joke, by its political incorrectness, etc., etc.. But the truth is that the idea Allen was playing with in that sentence undoubtedly corresponds to the tragic reality experienced by many Jewish families during the blood-shedding pogroms that took place in Ukraine and Poland during the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth (and forced so many Jews to emigrate to the Americas).

As far as I know, luckily nothing of the sort happened to any of my grand-mothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers – but before that, I can’t guarantee it didn’t.

My family’s genes might thus be telling a story of persecution and violence.

Image: DNA Root Tester