Geneticists at Trinity College Dublin have been the first to sequence genomes from ancient Irish humans, revealing deep new insights into Irish genetic heritage and migratory origins.
The team used the DNA from an early farmer woman, who lived near Belfast some 5,200 years ago, and from three Bronze Age men who were alive 4,000 years ago. From this small sample they were able produce some landmark results which were published in international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.
The people of Ireland today have several characteristic genetic traits. They have a high lactose tolerance – the world maxima for the variants of that genetic code – and have a propensity for several important genetic diseases including haemochromatosis, a condition of excessive iron retention. The three Bronze Age men displayed many of these traits in their genomes, notably sharing the most common Y chromosome among modern Irish men. However, the earlier farmer woman displayed a majority ancestry from the Middle East, where agriculture was invented.
This new genetic information provides unequivocal evidence of mass migration in waves that combined to make up the irish gene pool today
“It is clear that this project has demonstrated what a powerful tool ancient DNA analysis can provide in answering questions which have long perplexed academics regarding the origins of the Irish,” said Dr Eileen Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Osteoarchaeology at Queen’s University Belfast.
Similarities are strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, which suggests the establishment of “central attributes of the insular Celtic genome some 4,000 years ago,” as PhD Researcher in Genetics at Trinity, Lara Cassidy, put it. This is the first research to uncover this genetic connection between the Irish and Celtic peoples.