Citizen science helps unlock European genetic heritage

Posted: July 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Public release date: 25-Jul-2012 [ | E-mail | Share ]

Contact: Amy Stone a.f.stone@sheffield.ac.uk 01-142-221-046 University of Sheffield

A University of Sheffield academic is helping a team of citizen scientists to carry out crucial research into European genetic heritage.

Citizen Scientists are not required to have a scientific background or training, but instead they possess a passion for the subject and are increasingly being empowered by the scientific community to get involved in research.

Dr Andy Grierson, from the University of Sheffield's Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has helped a team of citizen scientists from Europe and North America to identify vital new clues to tell the story of Europe's genetic history.

Dr Grierson explained: "Understanding European history since man first arrived on the continent is a huge challenge for archaeologists and historians.

"One way that scientists can help is by studying the genetics of European men. All men carry a Y chromosome that they inherit from their father, which has been passed down the generations from father to son for thousands of years. So most men in Europe will share common ancestry at some point in the past, and we are able to investigate this shared ancestry using genetic studies of the Y chromosome.

"However, up until recently, there have not been many genetic clues on the Y chromosome to allow scientists to be certain about identifying different populations."

The team has addressed this problem by downloading human genome data obtained by the 1000 Genomes Project from the Sanger Centre in Cambridge. Then, working on their home computers, they managed to extract 200 novel genetic variants from Y chromosomes of the most numerous group of western European men.

By determining the patterns of these markers in each of the 1000 Genomes Project samples, the team was able to draw up a new family tree for the majority of men in Western Europe.

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Citizen science helps unlock European genetic heritage

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