Your DNA can spill your surname secrets

October 8th, 2008 - 4:48 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, October 8 (ANI): Researchers at the University of Leicester are trying to develop techniques that can one day enable police to work out criminals surnames just by analysing their DNA.
Dr. Turi King, Wellcome Trust postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Genetics, has found that men with the same British surname are highly likely to be genetically linked.
She insists that her findings have implications in the fields of forensics, genealogy, epidemiology, and the history of surnames.
Turi recruited over two and a half thousand men bearing over 500 different surnames to take part in her Ph.D. research.
Her study involved exploring this potential link between surname and Y chromosome type.
“In Britain, surnames are passed down from father to son. A piece of our DNA, the Y chromosome, is the one part of our genetic material that confers maleness and is passed, like surnames, from father to son. Therefore, a link could exist between a man’’s surname and the type of Y chromosome he carries. A simple link between name and Y chromosome could in principle connect all men sharing a surname into one large family tree, she said.
“However, in reality the link may not be so clear cut. Hereditary surnames in Britain are many hundreds of years old and each name may have had several founders. Events such as adoptions, name-changes and non-paternities would confuse any simple genetic link.
“These days, using genetic techniques, it is possible to tell Y chromosomes apart from one another so we wondered if you might find that a particular surname was associated with a particular Y chromosome type,” she added.
Turi said that a number of factors could break the link between surnames and Y chromosome typelike there could have been more than one person, known as a surname founder, who took on a surname at the time of surname formation around 700 years ago.
She said: “The surname Smith is a good example of this as it derives from the occupation of blacksmith so many men could have taken on the surname Smith. This means that instead of just one type of Y chromosome being associated with a surname, many different types of Y chromosomes would be associated with this single surname. On the other hand, for rarer names, there may have been just one founder for the name and potentially all men who bear that surname today would be descended from him and could be connected into one large family tree.”
She added: “The link between surname and Y chromosome type could also be broken through events such as adoption or illegitimacy: in this instance, a male child would have one man’’s surname but another man’’s Y chromosome type. Given all this, we really didn”t know if a link would exist.”
Her study revealed that between two men sharing the same surname, there was a 24 per cent chance of sharing a common ancestor through that name, but that that increased to nearly 50 per cent if the surname they had was rare.
She said: The fact that such a strong link exists between surname and Y chromosome type has a potential use in forensic science, since it suggests that, given large databases of names and Y chromosome profiles, surname prediction from DNA alone may be feasible.
The researcher later went on to look at 40 surnames in depth by recruiting many different men, all bearing the same surname. She ensured the exclusion of known relatives.
Surnames such as Attenborough and Swindlehurst showed that over 70 per cent of the men shared the same or near identical Y chromosome types, whereas surnames such as Revis, Wadsworth and Jefferson show more than one group of men sharing common ancestry but unrelated to other groups.
The findings have a potential use in forensic science because they suggests that, given large databases of names and Y chromosome profiles, surname prediction from DNA alone may be feasible. (ANI)

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