In a new study from Oxford University and published in Nature, researchers have found genetic signatures among  people from Britain that give away their historical roots in particular areas of the UK. It has enabled them to create the finest-scale map of genetic variation yet.

The analysis gives us a snapshot of clusters of genetic variation in the late 1800s, when people were less likely to migrate far from their region of birth and so they believe this reflects  the historical waves of migration by different populations into the island that is Britain.

“The patterns we see are extraordinary,” says Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford, UK, who co-led the study published 18 March in Nature. “The genetic effects we’re looking at are the result of, probably, thousands of years of history.”

Few people from the British Isles would today have ancestors from just one region of the country, but the researchers were able to find 2,039 Britons of European ancestry who lived in rural areas and also knew that their four grandparents were all born within a short distance of each other.

Their findings are that

  • Modern Britain can be divided into 17 distinct genetic groupings
  • The English genomes are 40 percent French, about 26 per cent shared with the Germans, 11 per cent with the Danes and in the region of nine per cent with the Belgians
  • The Northern Welsh have the most DNA from the the original settlers of Briton and differ from the Southern Welsh
  • A clear genetic division between the people of Cornwall and Devon that still persists along the county boundary of the River Tamar which shows for the first time what had been thought for a long time
  • Notwithstanding the long held belief that the Vikings raped as they conquered they have left very little of their DNA behind

Leslie, S. et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature14230 (18 March 2015).

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