Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thomas Jefferson's Y chromosome belongs to a rare European lineage

We have characterized the Y chromosome carried by President Thomas Jefferson, the general rarity of which supported the idea that he, or a patrilineal relative, fathered the last son of his slave Sally Hemings. It belongs to haplogroup K2, a lineage representing only ~1% of chromosomes worldwide, and most common in East Africa and the Middle East. Phylogenetic network analysis of its Y-STR (short tandem repeat) haplotype shows that it is most closely related to an Egyptian K2 haplotype, but the presence of scattered and diverse European haplotypes within the network is nonetheless consistent with Jefferson's patrilineage belonging to an ancient and rare indigenous European type. This is supported by the observation that two of 85 unrelated British men sharing the surname Jefferson also share the President's Y-STR haplotype within haplogroup K2. Our findings represent a cautionary tale in showing the difficulty of assigning individual ancestry based on a Y-chromosome haplotype, particularly for rare lineages where population data are scarce.

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