DNA test can take you back 1 000 years

Published May 2, 2014


London - You might have traced your family tree back a few generations and discovered where your relatives come from.

But a new test that uses DNA can pinpoint your roots much further back in time.

The biological ‘satnav’ created by scientists shows where a person’s ancestors lived up to 1,000 years ago – and in some cases can even identify a specific village or tribe.

Previous tests were only accurate to around 450 miles – which in Europe could be two countries away from the right place.

Dr Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield, who invented the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) test, said: ‘Most people live in houses – they have addresses. They may live in castles, they may live in caves, they may live in tents, but although they were born there, their DNA came from elsewhere.

‘Their DNA was forged through processes of migrations and slavery and victories and conquests but it was not necessarily formed where they currently live. Our question was one of the most basic questions the human species has always been asking – where am I from?’

BBC weather presenter Carol Kirkwood, 51, is one of the many people who have traced their ancestry using the groundbreaking DNA ‘mapping’.

She was thrilled to discover her origins lie in the quaint Scottish town of Crieff, near Perth – the childhood hometown of actor Ewan McGregor.

Kirkwood said on BBC Breakfast: ‘I used to go to Crieff when I was a kid on holiday.’ She also revealed that the town is only 126 miles from the village of Morar, near Fort William on the west coast of Scotland, where she and her seven siblings grew up and her parents ran a hotel.

In honour of her heritage, she presented the weather from Crieff on Thursday morning. She usually hosts the forecast from her home in London via a video link.

Dr Elhaik’s GPS test works by scanning a person’s DNA for parts that date back to the last time two ancestors were from different populations. For instance, this might be when a Viking invaded Britain and fell in love with a local.

He said it can find DNA that was ‘mixed’ in this way up to 1,000 years ago. Once the DNA has been identified, it is compared with samples from populations around the world that have not moved for hundreds of years.

A computer programme then calculates how close to these populations the person’s ancestors lived and fixes a location.

Details of the test’s accuracy are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Dr Elhaik, who developed the test with a researcher from the University of Southern California, said it will work for anyone anywhere in the world.

But there are some limitations. If a person’s grandparents are all from different areas, it will struggle to come up with a result.

Test subjects must provide a saliva sample, pay £70 to have their DNA read and a further £20 for their ancestral home to be identified.

Dr Elhaik was surprised to find Italian heritage in his own results.

He added: ‘Although we are all very different people, we wear different clothes, we like different food, there are some questions that we all share and the question about where we came from is universal.’

However, some experts have expressed doubts that the DNA ‘satnav’ can peer 1,000 years back in time.

Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London, described the test as ‘interesting but very crude ad-hoc technique’. - Daily Mail

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