Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Irish DNA Atlas project enters analysis phase

Having secured funding from Science Foundation Ireland towards the end of 2014, the Irish DNA Atlas project is now moving into the genetic analysis stage of the study. Initial findings may be about a year away.

The academic project, a collaboration between the Genealogical Society of Ireland and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) aims to create a detailed picture of genetic structure in Ireland, and pick out the genetic characteristics of people whose ancestors came from specific geographical areas. To do this, it has gathered, and is still recruiting, participants whose eight great grandparents were born within around 30km of one another. It doesn't matter if the locality straddles country boundaries.

"It's difficult to find participants who fit this tight criterion," Dr Gianpiero Cavalleri, who leads the project at the RCSI, told Irish Genealogy News. "But the logic behind it is to make an individual's genetic signature representative of a particular part of Ireland. It takes us back to what the genetic structure might have looked like in the 1850s, when people tended to be born, marry and die within restricted geographical boundaries."

Despite the tight qualification for eight great grandparents from one locality, the project has recruited sufficient numbers of participants, both men and women, for the project to move into the first scientific phase of analysis. Nonetheless, more participants are needed, especially from people with ancestry in the following areas:
  • Mid-Ulster
  • North-East coastal areas ie Louth and environs
  • North or East Midlands
  • County Limerick
  • North Cork
  • Waterford
  • Connemara
  • Any of the islands
Back at the lab, a PhD student, Edmund Gilbert, started work on the project last week. "The genetic work proper starts now," said Dr Cavalleri. "In the coming weeks and months we'll be analysing the samples and should, hopefully, be in a position to publish initial results in around 12 months."

Once it has created a detailed picture of genetic structure in Ireland, the Irish DNA Atlas project will compare it to similar projects in the UK and mainland Europe. In so doing, it will gain insight into historical migrations to and from the island. Detailing genetic structure in Ireland may also help efforts to describe genes influencing disease in the Irish (and other) populations.

Participation in the Irish DNA Atlas study is on a pro bono basis with each person supplying genealogical data (which is rigorously checked) and a DNA sample. The DNA kit is supplied by the project. Individual results are not supplied to participants, nor will the data be made publicly available.

If you're interested in taking part, you can request an Irish DNA Atlas project pack from the Genealogical Society of Ireland at