College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

DNA test reveals village roots

A simple DNA test could pinpoint a person’s geographical roots to within a few miles, a study suggests.

Research by the University has shown that genetic testing can accurately predict the origins of rural people, to within five miles of their family’s home.

The team says the findings suggest it may soon be possible to detect the rural roots of city dwellers who have ancestors from different parts of the same country.

It has been shown previously that there are genetic differences between populations in different countries.

For example, it is possible to predict whether someone is from northern or southern Italian descent based on their genes.

Rural heritage

The team in Edinburgh tested whether the same analysis could be used to distinguish between people from the same country who were separated only by short distances.

Researchers looked at the genes of volunteers from Scottish islands, the Alpine valleys of Italy and villages in Croatia.

The study included only people whose four grandparents came from the same village, to ensure they had one definite place of origin.

None of the volunteers were related to each other.

The results showed that by studying genetic differences it is possible to distinguish between individuals who live in villages that are only five miles apart.

They predicted the correct village of origin for 100 per cent of the Italian sample, 96 per cent of the Scottish sample and 89 per cent in the Croatian sample.

Genetic fingerprints

The researchers conclude the pattern can be explained by the fact that long ago people tended to marry within their own community.

After many generations, the different villages developed their own genetic fingerprint, so that scientists can now detect that distant kinship.

The findings are published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

This exciting finding begs the question of whether we will be able to identify the rural origins of urban people with ancestry from many places across a country. These results hold out the possibility that with more data, using genome sequencing for instance, we might be able to do this.

Dr Jim WilsonRoyal Society University Research Fellow at the University