Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Distinctive genetic signatures in the Libyan Jews

Unlinked autosomal microsatellites in six Jewish and two non-Jewish populations were genotyped, and the relationships among these populations were explored. Based on considerations of clustering, pairwise population differentiation, and genetic distance, we found that the Libyan Jewish group retains genetic signatures distinguishable from those of the other populations, in agreement with some historical records on the relative isolation of this community. Our methods also identified evidence of some similarity between Ethiopian and Yemenite Jews, reflecting possible migration in the Red Sea region. We suggest that high-resolution statistical methods that use individual multilocus genotypes may make it practical to distinguish related populations of extremely recent common ancestry.

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Ataxia-telangiectasia: founder effect among North African Jews

The ATM gene is responsible for the autosomal recessive disorder ataxia- telangiectasia (A-T), characterized by cerebellar degeneration, immunodeficiency and cancer predisposition. A-T carriers were reported to be moderately cancer-prone. A wide variety of A-T mutations, most of which are unique to single families, were identified in various ethnic groups, precluding carrier screening with mutation-specific assays. However, a single mutation was observed in 32/33 defective ATM alleles in Jewish A-T families of North African origin, coming from various regions of Morocco and Tunisia. This mutation, 103C-->T, results in a stop codon at position 35 of the ATM protein. In keeping with the nature of this mutation, various antibodies directed against the ATM protein failed to defect this protein in patient cells. A rapid carrier detection assay detected this mutation in three out of 488 ATM alleles of Jewish Moroccan or Tunisian origin. This founder effect provides a unique opportunity for population-based screening for A-T carriers in a large Jewish community.

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