Thursday, June 24, 2004

Genghis Khan, Father of Millions?

June 22, 2004 —Genghis Khan left a legacy shared by 16 million people alive today, according to a book by a Oxford geneticist who identified the Mongol emperor as the most successful alpha male in human history.

Regarded by the Mongolians as the father of their nation, Genghis Khan was born around 1162. A military and political genius, he united the tribes of Mongolia and conquered half of the known world with a cavalry riding on grass-fed ponies.

By the time Genghis died in 1227, his empire stretched from the Pacific coast of China to the Caspian Sea.

Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University and author of "Adam's Curse," a study of the Y chromosome, believes Genghis's "super Y" chromosome survived and proliferated as far as the British Isles. He has just begun to check it at Oxford Ancestors, a leading provider of DNA-based services for use in personal ancestry research.

"We will offer British men genetic tests to see if they are Genghis's descendants. It is possible that the Mongol emperor's Y chromosome spread as far as the U.K. through gradual immigration from further East over the centuries," Sykes told Discovery News.

The genetic testing follows another Oxford study, which involved a survey of the Y chromosome — which is passed unchanged from father to son — from all over Central Asia.

The researchers found one Y chromosome fingerprint that was identical in eight percent of the male population.

"This was highly unusual and suggested that they may all have descended from one man living in the fairly recent past. By seeing what small changes had occurred, it was possible to estimate the time at which this common ancestor lived, and it was consistent with an origin in the 12th or 13th century," Sykes said.

Matching that evidence with the overlap between where the chromosome was abundant and the geographical extent of the Mongol empire established by Genghis Khan in the 12th century, the researchers concluded it was Genghis' chromosome.

The Mongol emperor's habit of killing the men and inseminating the women when his army conquered a new territory, coupled with handing the Empire and other wealth to his sons, and their sons, would explain how the chromosome came to such prevalence today, said Sykes.

The final piece of evidence came from the Hazara, a hill tribe in Pakistan who had a strong oral history of being descended from Genghis Khan.

"The Y chromosome was present in the Hazara, but not in the surrounding tribes, who did not have this oral history. Though the evidence is circumstantial, it is, I believe, very strong," Sykes said.

Finding Genghis Khan's tomb, one of the great secrets of all time, could provide the definitive evidence, leading to a direct comparison of Genghis' Y chromosome with those of modern men.

Sykes' hypothesis seems to be consistent with history, according to David Morgan, a Mongol history specialist at the University of Wisconsin.

"There's no reason to doubt that Genghis Khan fathered a good crop of children, if one is to believe the testimony of contemporaries," Morgan told Discovery News.



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