Fine-scale genetic map shows UK’s secret histories (Wired UK)


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Data collected by the Wellcome Trust has
been used by researchers at Oxford University to create the first
fine-scale genetic map of
the UK. As part of a study published in Nature, the researchers discovered that there is no single
Celtic genetic group in the UK — and in fact people from Celtic
areas of the UK are among the most different to each other
genetically.

The Celtic parts of the UK are defined as Scotland, Northern
Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. The dividing line that runs between
Cornwall and Devon showed that each county has its own genetic
group and that they are separated almost exactly by the county
border.

The map showed that the population of Orkney are the most
genetically distinct region, with 25 percent of DNA coming from
Norway. This does suggest that the 9th century Norse Viking
invasion of the islands did not result in the population being
killed and replaced, but instead there was an intermingling of DNA.
Interestingly in the rest of the UK, there is no obvious genetic
signature of the Danish Vikings, who controlled large parts of
England around a similar time.

Data for the study was drawn from participants in Wellcome’s
People of the British Isles study, which saw blood collected from
4,500 people living in the rural areas of the country. Oxford
University’s Sir Walter Bodmer, who conceived and co-led the
project, said: “the People of the British Isles study gave us a
wonderful opportunity to learn about the fine-scale genetic
patterns in the UK population. A key part of our success was
collecting DNA from a geographically diverse group of people who
are representative of their location.

DNA from 2,000 of the volunteers was analysed by researchers
from Oxford, UCL and Australia’s Murdoch Children’s Research
Institute. A prerequisite for each of the volunteers was that all
four grandparents had to be born within 80km of each other. This
provided researchers with an accurate understanding of late 19th
century genetics in the UK, as each grandparent contributes a
quarter of their genome to their grandchild.

DNA samples were blindly separated into genetically similar
groups by researchers and were also plotted out on a map according
to a point as central as possible to the birthplace of each
volunteer’s grandparents. Comparing these two datasets, it was
possible for the researchers to discover whether there was
geographical correlation between the genetic groupings.

Comparing these results with DNA samples taken from over 6,000
Europeans allowed the research team to identify patterns of
population movement into the UK over the course of the past 10,000
years.

Overall, the UK can be divided into 17 genetically distinct
clusters of people, but it is when you zoom in on the map that you
can really start to learn about the history of the country.

“The results give an answer to the question we had never
previously thought we would be able to ask about the degree of
British survival after the collapse of Roman Britain and the coming
of the Saxons,” said Professor Mark Robinson, an archaeologist on
the project from the Oxford University Museum of Natural
History.

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20 March 2015 | 5:00 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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