~ REV. ALEXANDER KEITH ~
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Eran Elhaik, Ph.D.
The Jewish Genome Challenge
It has been suggested in the scientific and popular literature that
is a genetic trait found in our genes and that worldwide
Jews comprise a genetically distinct group with some Jewish communities
being described as “population isolates” (e.g., Atzmon et al. 2010;
Behar et al. 2010;
Ostrer 2012). For example, Atzmon et al. (2010) wrote that:
"European/Syrian and Middle Eastern Jews represent a series of
geographical isolates or clusters woven together by shared IBD genetic
Behar et al. (2010) wrote: "The most parsimonious explanation for these
observations is a common genetic origin, which is consistent with an
historical formulation of
the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelite
residents of the Levant." The cover of the book "Legacy" says: "Ostrer shows that
Jews from different Diaspora groups are linked by the genetic threads that provide a biological basis for Jewishness."
However, none of these blury descriptions of "genetic threads" are
substantiated by any particular genetic nucleotides, haplotypes, or
genetic regions and
even after decades of genetic research, these ideas remain controversial
among geneticists as well as historians and social scientists (e.g.,
2009; Elhaik 2013; Venton 2013) with some proposing that these notions
are driven by non-scientific ideologies (e.g., Kirsh 2003). It has been
further suggested that traits such as
intelligence are more strongly associated with Jews than with non-Jews
(Ostrer 2012). Based on these notions, genetic testing companies now
offer genetic tests
that promise to accurately determine one’s Jewishness. Recently,
A.B. Yehoshua an Israeli writer and scholar proposed that "A Jew is a Jew because he chose to be a Jew and not because he was forced -
because of biology or by some external social force, to define himself as a Jew" dismisssing any genetic notion of Jewishness.
We therefore propose to put to test the claims that Jewishness is the genes.
We propose to hold the
“Jewish Genome Challenge.”
challenge, we will obtain samples annotated as "Jews" and "non-Jews",
genotyped on the Illumine HumanHap650K beadchip retaining only the
autosomal data. Markers in linkage disequilibrium would be removed
leaving out some 250,000 SNPs.
This array and the pruned dataset were previously used to allege that
Jews share common origin and thus fit for the test (Atzmon et al. 2010;
Behar et al. 2010).
If you feel that a particular nucleotide, haplotype, or genetic region
necessary for your analyses may be missing, please let us know and we
will reserve them. We will create “artificial offspring” from these
by hybridizing them across random hot-spots and over several
generations, determining the gender of that offspring at random, as in
real life. In practicality, we will simulate a modern-day Israeli
The Jewishness of the samples would be set in two ways: according to the
Israeli law-of-return—stating that a Jew is anyone with at least
one Jewish grandparent—and according to the Orthodox religious law
(Halakha)—stating that a Jew is anyone who is born to a Jewish mother.
The Jewishness of the samples would be known to us, but not to you. The
final files would be made available in PLINK format and include
the genetic sequence, sample identifiers and gender. We will then ask
you to identify which of these samples are Jews or non-Jews based on the
genetic data and test the accuracy of your predictions
against their Jewishness according to either law.
For example, a sample annotated as a "non-Jew" African male may be
hybridized with a "Jew" Yemenite female and the male offspring may be
hybridized with a "non-Jew" Polish female. The
resulting offspring should be reported by you as a "Jew" according to
the law-of-return, but as a "non-Jew" according to Halakha.
Please inform us at (eelhaik at jhsph dot edu) by November 1st 2013 if
you are interested in participating, and we will send you a link to the
dataset. You have
one month to provide your predictions. You may choose to make your
predictions according to either or both laws. On December 1st 2013, we
will end the challenge by publishing the real results along with the
algorithms, and the detailed "family trees" to allow you to evaluate
your results and improve your algorithms for future analyses. Two days
later (December 3rd 2013), we will publish
the names of the winners whose predictions exceeded the 50% (expected by
chance), the accuracy of their predictions, and a brief statement from
The names of the losers will not be published.
We cannot offer monetary awards, however, we feel that the glory of
winning is a reward in itself
as failure would imply that reports in the scientific literature
regarding "genetic threads" within worldwide Jewish communities or
between them and the
should be dismissed.
Moreover, failing the challenge would imply that the necessity for megalomaniac projects
Jewish HapMap Project should be reevaluated
as well as the rational for
tests to prove Jewish bloodline
Please do not hesitate to email us with any questions.
Updates about the challenge would be posted in the Facebook groups
Challenge is now over with all participants failing to submit their results and thus failing the challenge!
used to generate the
were made available.
The data is in plink format. Data for generation 1 was obtained from
Jewish and non-Jewish sampels genotyped by Behar et al. (2103)
The scripts generate offspring, by selecting 2 random parents,
select hot spots at random and merge genomic regions for each parent
with geneder determined at random.
Samples were hybridized at random across two generations: first
(generation_1.ped, generation_1.map) and second: (generation_2.ped) with
the annoation as follows:
[sample_ID, is_jew_by_return_law [1-yes, 0-no], paternal_id,
maternal_id, sex [1 male, 2 female], is_jew_by_halacha [1-yes, 0-no] ],
for example: 1 1 12 17 1 1.
participants were provided the file generation_2_masked.ped, in which
annotation was masked.
Full results and implications would be published soon.