August 01, 2011

iGENEA's King Tut claims

iGENEA is a Swiss ancestry analysis company which I had deservedly mocked a couple of years ago because of its ridiculous claims. In my experience, commercial ancestry analysis outfits are often plagued by either of two problems:
  1. They offer too little value, such as a breakdown of an individual into the categories of "Europe", "Asia", and "Africa".
  2. They pretend to offer too much value, such as the ability to connect one's Y-chromosome with Old Testament priests, numerous ancient "tribes", or to break down one's genome to a very fine detail that is not commensurate with the power of the DNA evidence they collect (e.g., with the CODIS markers)
iGENEA is a great example of #2.

Now, they have done it again, pretending to be able to link men with a particular R1b1a2 haplotype with King Tut. Note that the Y-chromosome of King Tut has never been published, and speculation about it is based on some screencaps from a Discovery Channel documentary that may or may not belong to the Pharaoh:

iGENEA was able to reconstruct the Y-DNA profile of Tutankhamun, his father Akhenaten and his grandfather Amenhotep III with the help of a recording of the Discovery Channel. The astonishing result:

Indeed, the whole business of mummy DNA is highly suspect, as Jo Marchant has covered quite comprehensively in Nature News; see also King Tut's DNA in doubt.

The original paper in the JAMA was remarkable for its non-publishing of crucial data necessary to validate the claims within it. This is yet another argument against the flawed peer-review system whose main objective, it seems, is to take in money for journals and dole out prestige to authors, and not to do actual science.

Personally, I'm against most regulation of personal genetics products, unless there is a clear and present medical danger arising from their use: I don't trust government bureaucrats and paternalistic know-it-all scientists to tell us what deserves to be marketed and what does not.

On the other hand, the absence of regulation makes the community's responsibility to speak out against bad products all the more important: such products can only be identified if there is an active and broad group of informed individuals willing to put out the relevant facts out there, and let potential customers decide for themselves.


mooreisbetter said...

Kudos to you Dienekes for pointing out the shadiness of the commercial labs. The ones who claim to parcel one's ancestry exactly, or to help you determine if you are descended from some ancient king or queen are so bogus! The more reductio ad absurdem / commercially hyped the lab? I run screaming from those, and y'all should too.

Onur Dincer said...

Now, they have done it again, pretending to be able to link men with a particular R1b1a2 haplotype with King Tut.

Not so different from the ridiculous claim of Genghisid genetic marker.

apostateimpressions said...

This greeted me on Yahoo:

<< LONDON (Reuters) - Up to 70 percent of British men and half of all Western European men are related to the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, geneticists in Switzerland said. >>

I always thought that I had some pretty refined tastes. Now I know that I am descended from the pharaohs.

Hopefully this will encourage the Egyptian authorities to RELEASE Tut's data!

mathilda said...

I was never big on this claim from the screen caps. Still dubious.

If it was the R1b type that you find in Nubian/Chadic peoples (or its precursor)it would make more sense, as this had to pass through Sinai and Egypt in the Neolithic in order to spread through Africa.


Grendal said...

Would it not be very surprising if most of us were not "related" to Egyptian Pharaohs? There were a lot of them and most would probably have been prolific breeders over the centuries. I suspect the territories of the Egyptian empires would soon have become well populated with Egypt's powerful heirarchy. With overlaps to other later empires in Africa and the Middle East and all that Mediterranean seafaring, these genes would have "got about!"

Onur Dincer said...

Would it not be very surprising if most of us were not "related" to Egyptian Pharaohs?

We aren't dealing with pharaoh lineages as a whole but one specific pharaoh lineage; chances of having origins from a specific pharaoh lineage are extremely small.

Mary M said...

I was listening to a human genome conspiracy theory the other day (sort of a warped hobby, I know--but generally good for a laugh), and this woman assured listeners that she is descended from Mary (mother of Jesus) lineage.


dok101 said...

@ mathilda:

Frequently observed Assyrian, North Syrian Alawite, and Cohanim R1b haplotypes are not that far off the supposed King Tut haplotype. There is also an Egyptian R-L23 in the ht35 project with a not too distant haplotype, all things considered. Also, considering the few millennia elapsed since Tut's untimely demise, it might not be a bad idea to consider which of the reported markers would have most likely mutated.

Average Joe said...

Note that the Y-chromosome of King Tut has never been published, and speculation about it is based on some screencaps from a Discovery Channel documentary that may or may not belong to the Pharaoh

But why haven't they published the DNA results? If Tut's DNA was typical of African populations - northern or southern - then don't you think those results would have been released?

Dienekes said...

I don't care why it hasn't been published, it's up to those who did the work to (a) publish it, and (b) convince the scientific community that it's genuine ancient DNA.

What I do care about is a company engaging in rubbish science for profit, with unsubstantiated nonsense like:

"Are you a direct male descendant of the Pharaos?"

"This haplogroup was also widespread in the indoeuropean Hittite empire in Anatolia. "

designed to make a swiss franc at the expense of the gullible.

dok101 said...

@ Average Joe

I would not necessarily say King Tut's haplotype is (or was) typical for Africa. But neither is it an outrageous result. Especially if one refers to the history of the region in the centuries immediately preceding King Tut's reign.

I reckon they do not keep up with Dienekes' blog. Their sources, I imagine, are a bit lagging. If they refer to the recent Balanovsky et al. paper on the Caucasus, what more can we expect. For instance:

"Typical European haplogroups are very rare...or limited to specific populations (R1a1a-M198; R1b1b2-M269) in the Caucasus."

Mind you, the great majority of the R-M269 haplotypes in the paper were not even DYS393=13. They were of the ancestral Armenian variety, with DYS393=12.

apostateimpressions said...

<< Carsten Pusch, a geneticist at Germany's University of Tubingen who was part of the team that unraveled Tut's DNA from samples taken from his mummy and mummies of his family members, said that iGENEA's claims are "simply impossible." >>

How is it "simply impossible" for Tut to be R1b1a2? Why does Pusch not elaborate?

Does Pusch mean that it is "simply politically incorrect" for Tut to be R1b1a2?

If IGENEA is "unscientific" as Pusch's team claims then surely the refusal to publish Tut's data is ANTI-scientific.


YeomanDroid said...

iGENEA is owned by FTDNA. So what did you expect? Honestly. I beg what once seemed like a legitimate company that is involved with academia to stop the nonsense. Otherwise, no credibility and basically a House of Names type organization involved in hype for a profit. We have enough corruption in the world.

Anonymous said...

In any case, I bet it is a case of contamination. The R1B1A2 group, if confirmed, would come from one of the English archeologists that discovered the mummy one century ago.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the Israeli-American super Model Donna Feldman:

...and now at the Israeli super model Moran Atias:

Now, take a look at a bust of Nefertiti, the famous ancient Egyptian queen:

---------------> From what forensic reconstructions I have seen of Pharaoh Tut-Ankh-Amun, he looks like a typical non-Egyptian person of North African/Middle Eastern heritage.

Egyptians of today are very heavily mixed with persons of Sub-Saharan genetic heritage. Persons of Middle Eastern phenotype amongst modern Egyptians are not very common.

So, chances are that King Tut would look very much like a Mizrahi/Sephardi Jew with roots from North Africa, i.e. Egypt, Tunis, Morocco.

Mizrahi means 'eastern', and Sephardi means 'Spanish'.

Jews tended to marry within their own ethnic group, so they have preserved the phenotype of their ancestors more or less, and in my humble opinion the Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews are much closer to their Hebrew ancestors in phenotype than, say, most Ashkenazi/European Jews.

Ancient Hebrews had close contact with Egypt as we know from history. In addition, ancient Egyptian and ancient Hebrew were related Semitic languages, so it makes some sense to assume that Ancient Egyptians looked very much like their kinsmen the Hebrews. (Ancient Egyptian art seems to concur too).

*I have worked extensively in the Mid East, incl but not limited to, Egypt.

Καλές διακοπές, φίλε Διηνεκή.

teltalheart said...

It's clear to see you have placed highly trained genetic scientists on the same level as a 9th grade science class because you disagree with their findings that this particular pharaonic line was Y-DNA R1b1a2. A line that is today primarily European. Rather than African. I guess that would be your personal prejudices showing through. I, by the way, am Y-DNA R1b1a2a1a1a and mtDNA J2b1b.