Background: It was recently shown that the genetic distinction between self-identified Ashkenazi Jewish and non-Jewish individuals is a prominent component of genome-wide patterns of genetic variation in European Americans. No study however has yet assessed how accurately self-identified (Ashkenazi) Jewish ancestry can be inferred from genomic information, nor whether the degree of Jewish ancestry can be inferred among individuals with fewer than four Jewish grandparents.
Results: Using a principal components analysis, we found that the individuals with full Jewish ancestry formed a clearly distinct cluster from those individuals with no Jewish ancestry. Using the position on the first principal component axis, every single individual with self-reported full Jewish ancestry had a higher score than any individual with no Jewish ancestry.
Conclusions: Here we show that within Americans of European ancestry there is a perfect genetic corollary of Jewish ancestry which, in principle, would permit near perfect genetic inference of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. In fact, even subjects with a single Jewish grandparent can be statistically distinguished from those without Jewish ancestry. We also found that subjects with Jewish ancestry were slightly more heterozygous than the subjects with no Jewish ancestry, suggesting that the genetic distinction between Jews and non-Jews may be more attributable to a Near-Eastern origin for Jewish populations than to population bottlenecks.