Study Traces 3.5 Million Jews To 4 Women

Associated Press
Friday, January 13, 2006

NEW YORK, Jan. 12 -- About 3.5 million of today's Ashkenazi Jews -- about 40 percent of the total Ashkenazi population -- are descended from just four women, a genetic study indicates.

Those women apparently lived in Europe in the past 2,000 years, but not necessarily in the same place or the same century, said lead author Doron M. Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Israel.

Each woman left a genetic signature that shows up in her descendants today, he and colleagues say in a report published online by the American Journal of Human Genetics. Together, the four signatures appear in about 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews, while being virtually absent in non-Jews and found only rarely in Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin.

They said the total Ashkenazi population is estimated to be 8 million. The world's Jewish population is about 13 million.

Ashkenazi Jews are of mainly central and eastern European ancestry. Ultimately, though, they can be traced to Jews who migrated from Israel to Italy in the first and second centuries, Behar said.

The study involved mitochondrial DNA, called mtDNA, which is passed only through the mother. A woman can pass her mtDNA to grandchildren only by having daughters. So mtDNA is "the perfect tool to trace maternal lineages," Behar said in a telephone interview.

His study involved analyzing mtDNA from more than 11,000 samples representing 67 populations.

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