The EUROTAST network is launching a series of projects focusing on the slave trade between Africa, Europe and the New World. Below are a couple of project summaries that caught my eye. The full list is available here.
Project 10: The genetic legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in Europe
This project aims to investigate the genetic legacy of the transatlantic slave trade in Europe. From the 15th century onwards a small proportion of Africans was introduced into Europe. Iberia displays one of the highest frequencies of maternal sub-Saharan lineages (haplogroups L0-6) in Europe, attaining a maximum of 11% in southern Portugal. Curiously, sub-Saharan male lineages are vestigial, supporting a strong bias in the mixed mating system. The frequency of maternal sub-Saharan lineages decreases towards Eastern Europe, being less than 0.5% in Russia. There is the possibility that some of these lineages were introduced via the Roman/Arabic slave trade in the case of southern Europe and via the Ottoman mediated trade in eastern Europe.
To ascertain more accurately how recently they were introduced, we will perform complete sequencing of the sub-Saharan lineages found in Europe. In addition, we aim to increase the resolution of the L tree in Africa, through complete sequencing of maternal lineages from sub-Saharan and North African populations. Phylogenies and the dating of the lineages will be inferred using methods of parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian coalescence.
Lastly, we plan to apply founder analysis to both the complete mtDNA genomes and to the much larger dataset of African HVRI sequences, in order to identify potential sub-Saharan founders and estimate the time of their (forced) migration towards Europe.
Project 11: Computational reconstruction of Hans Jonatan’s genome
This project focuses on a highly novel idea in human genetics, namely to reconstruct the genome of a long dead individual using genetic data available through his descendants. The individual in question is Hans Jonatan, a slave of mixed ancestry who was born in the Caribbean in 1784. His mother was African and his father Danish, most probably Ludvig von Schimmelmann, governor of the Danish West Indies at the time. In the 1790s, Jonatan moved to Europe where he fought in the Napoleonic Wars and in 1816 he settled in Iceland where he married Katrín Antoníusdóttir, with whom he had two children through which he has about 500 present descendants in the Icelandic population today.
Scientists at deCODE have already genotyped roughly 40,000 Icelanders using microarrays and have developed a novel long-range phasing algorithm based on the detection of shared chromosome segments that are identical by descent to determine both allelic phase and parental origin of entire chromosomes. We plan to use this revolutionary method to reconstruct large fragments of Hans Jonatan’s genome based on the genetic data available through his descendants. More generally, this project aims to develop general methods to reconstruct the ancestral genomes from genotype data obtained from contemporary descendants.
Furthermore, we intend to use population genetic methods and the fact that there is almost no other African admixture in the Icelandic gene pool to identify the African part of Hans Jonatan’s genome that has been transmitted to his descendants. Once we have reconstructed as much of his genome as possible (fragment by fragment), we will use this virtual ancient genome to make inferences about his phenotype and biogeographical ancestry. This study will not only set new standards for the use of genetics in shedding light on the history and legacy of long dead individuals, but also provide a unique opportunity for empirical study of how a genome is gradually fragmented by recombination over time.
The student will formally be enrolled as PhD at the University of Iceland but will be based at deCODE Genetics on a day-to-day basis, with access to all the scientific resources it has to offer.