DNA ‘sat nav’ turns back time

University of Sheffield geneticist and bioinformatics expert Dr Eran Elhaik
University of Sheffield geneticist and bioinformatics expert Dr Eran Elhaik

New DNA ‘sat nav’ techniques developed by Sheffield University scientists can track down where your ancestors lived 1,000 years ago.

Previous estimates could only track locations to within 700km, which in Europe could be two countries away.

But the new Geographic Population Structure system is 98 per cent accurate in locating worldwide populations right back to their village or island of origin.

Knowing where gene pools that created your DNA were last mixed has big implications for life-saving personalised medicine and advancing forensic science.

The process locates ‘genetic admixture’ – which occurs when individuals from two or more separate populations begin interbreeding, creating a new gene pool.

Such processes are common in history during migrations and invasions – for example, when Vikings invaded Britain in the 11th century and settled with locals.

City scientist Dr Eran Elhaik said: “If we think of our world as being made up of different colours of soup – representing different populations – it is easy to visualise how genetic admixture occurs.

“If a population from the blue soup region mixes with a population from the red soup region their offspring would appear as a purple soup.

“The more mixture that takes place, the more different colours of soup are introduced which makes it increasingly difficult to locate your DNA’s ancestry.

“What is remarkable is we can do track gene pool creation so accurately we can locate the village where ancestors lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”