Cyprus Mail

Our DNA looks East, not West

By Elias Hazou

THE ISLAND’S two communities have a very different genetic profile, while Cypriots in general exhibit diverse hereditary markers, local research has shown.

Despite a highly mixed gene pool, at the same time a large cross-section of Greek Cypriots display commonalities. Around 33 per cent of them shared the top 100 haplotypes identified in the Greek Cypriot population.

A haplotype is a combination of alleles (DNA sequences) at adjacent locations on a chromosome that are inherited together.

The findings, obtained by Dr Paul Kosteas, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Haematological Malignancies of the Karaiskakio Foundation, suggest that in Cyprus there is a very old population with its own genetic characteristics.

The genetic information, presented this week at a colloquium hosted by the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, is a by-product of data gathered through the Cyprus Bone Marrow Donor Registry (CYBMDR).

With 120,000 registered Greek Cypriot and 20,000 Turkish Cypriot volunteer donors, the CYBMDR ranks 19th among registries in the world in absolute terms, but is the largest such database on a per capita basis.

The findings show that Cyprus is genetically much more heterogeneous than other countries; only 10 per cent of individuals possess tissue types that one comes across just once (known as unique phenotypes).

And Cypriots are genetically closer to the Near East rather than to the West: the research discovered that the most common haplotype (codenamed A1B8DR3) in Europe is ranked 27th among the haplotypes found among the island’s population.

To varying degrees, the genetic makeup of Greek Cypriots has commonalities with Armenians, Greeks, Iranians, Turks and Palestinians, to name but a few.

Throughout the centuries, the Mediterranean island has been conquered and settled by a succession of peoples, including Greeks, Romans, Jews, Assyro-Babylonians and Arabs and Franks.

Citing what Kosteas called an intriguing find, Turkish Cypriots have a great deal in common with people in Thessaloniki, many of whom are descendants of refugees from Asia Minor.

Kosteas told the Mail that strictly speaking there is no such thing as Cypriot, or Turkish – or European for that matter – DNA.

The genetic markers that can be described as “Cypriot” are simply those which stand out in the population, compared to other populations, which are also mixed to varying degrees.

“It’s all relative,” Kosteas said, pointing out that genetics on the one hand, and culture, religion, and national or ethnic identity on the other, are distinct fields.

Earlier this month, scientists published a ‘genetic atlas’ following their discovery of 95 distinguishable populations around the world. Using this data, a team led by Simon Myers of Oxford University, Garrett Hellenthal of University College London and Daniel Falush of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, were able to isolate different DNA markers that they can ‘cross check’ with other populations.

That study found that Greek markers accounted for around 23 per cent of Cypriot DNA. Apart from ‘Greek DNA’ markers, Cypriots showed signs of Iranian, Italian – a significant 20 per cent – Sicilian, Armenian, Syrian, Georgian, Saudi and Palestinian markers.

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