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December 18, 2011

“Descendant of Genghis Khan” sequenced

Chinese Scientists Announce the First Complete Sequencing of Mongolian Genome:

In this study, the DNA sample was from a male adult who belongs to the Mongolian “Royal Family” and is the 34th generation descendant of Genghis Khan. “The sample is very valuable for the study with a full record of family pedigree and no background of intermarriage between other ethnic groups.” said Professor Huanmin Zhou, Project Investigator and Director of Science and Technology at IMAU.


There has long been talk of the famous Genghis Khan haplotype, a Y chromosomal lineage which seems to have issued from Mongolia ~1,000 years ago. Obviously the most probable, if not necessarily likely (depending on who you talk to)*, candidate for the source of this lineage is the family of Genghis Khan. For centuries paternal descent from Genghis Khan (and to a lesser extent his brothers, such as Khasar, whose descendants became prominent subordinates to the Manchu) conferred upon an individual great prestige. Peculiarly, in parts of the Muslim world descent from Genghis Khan was a major source of legitimacy (peculiar because he was staunchly a Tengrist). I put the descendant in quotations because there are many descendants of Genghis Khan. The individual sequenced happens to simply be of the Genghiside nobility of the Khalka Mongols. As such I am skeptical that this individual has simply one line of descent from Genghis Khan, we probably are looking at someone who is more Genghis Khan than the average bear. What does that mean? I suspect at some point in the near future we can test propositions such as the possible skewed genetic contribution of Mongol lineages to groups such as the Hazara in Afghanistan. If the Hazara are disproportionately descended from Genghisides, as they claim, then they should resemble the nobility of the Khalka to a greater extent than other Mongols on the genomewide scale.

Assuming 40 generations, the expectation is that any given descendant of Genghis Khan should have no DNA bases which derives in a line of biophysical continuity from him (0.540 × 3 billion bases ~ 0.002). But obviously that’s not the case, because in the descendants of Genghis Khan he and his relatives will show up many, many, times in the pedigree. It would be interesting at some point in the near future if better coverage of genomes in Eurasia would allow us to actually to fix upon chromosomal segments which are highly enriched among Genghisides vs. non-noble Khalka Mongols, and Khalka Mongols vs. Oirats. And, it would be suspicious indeed if this particular cluster of haplotypes exhibits a very wide scale of geographic dispersion.

I also wonder if we’ll discover evidence of any great systematic reproductive skew in humans. Our moderate sexual dimorphism indicates over the long term that it shouldn’t be too extreme (skew in mammals tends to operate via males, who have a much larger potential range of offspring). But some theorists have suggested that the rise of agriculture has resulted in the emergence of “super-male” lineages which not only monopolize power and material goods and services, but women. If so, skew itself might differ from population to population in direct proportion to its long term history of egalitarianism. Though do note that a few bouts of high skew are going to impose a bottleneck of sorts.

* The proof would be to see how enriched the Genghis Khan lineage is among the purported descendants of Genghis Khan in Mongolia, where the pedigrees are presumably more legitimate.

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