Tech UPTechnologyThey recreate the DNA of a man who died...

They recreate the DNA of a man who died in 1827

A team of scientists from different international institutions coordinated by researchers from the Icelandic biopharmaceutical firm deCODE Genetics has managed to partially recreate the DNA of a male who died in 1827.

And this, from the study of samples taken from their descendants, since they did not have remains of the individual himself. The peculiar story of this man, however, is well known in Iceland.

He was Hans Jonatan, a black slave who had fled and, after various incidents, arrived in that Nordic country, where, at that time, people of African origin did not live.

Jonatan was born in 1784 on the Caribbean island of Santa Cruz – also known as Saint Croix, in today’s Virgin Islands – which the Danish Company of the West Indies and Guinea had acquired from France in 1733.

His mother was a slave in charge of domestic service and, although the identity of his father is not known with certainty, the anthropologist Gísli Pálsson, from the University of Iceland, stated in a biography published in 2014 that he was a white native of Denmark who worked as a secretary for its owners.


In any case, the plantation they managed turned into a dilapidated business, so they moved to Copenhagen, along with Jonatan. In 1802, he escaped, joined the Danish Navy and fought in the Napoleonic wars. Even so, he ended up being arrested, and when he was sentenced to return to the West Indies, where slavery still persisted, he escaped again, in this case, to Iceland, where he would live until the end of his life. In his new home he married and had several children.

Genetics detectives

Well, in a study published in the journal Nature Genetics , researchers from the deCODE company and their collaborators describe how they worked with the genetic information of their heirs to try to reconstruct their DNA. The huge genealogical database that this country has, and which includes information on at least a third of the population, facilitated their task. Scientists thus identified 788 of their descendants.

Then, they studied the small variations in the DNA sequence that affect a single base – adenine, thymine, cytosine or guanine -, which is called a single nucleotide polymorphism, of 182 of them that are still living – they also sequenced the genome complete of twenty.

In this way, they obtained 674 chromosome fragments that could be related to Jonatan’s genetic inheritance . From this information, the scientists used a computer tool to obtain 38% of their DNA, a significant part of it if it is taken into account that they did not have original tissues. They also found out that her mother came from an area between Nigeria, Cameroon and Benin.

Experts admit that this was possible only because of the peculiarities of the case, but they suggest that their initiative could have various applications in the future, such as, for example, helping to complete family trees.

Reference: Reconstructing an African haploid genome from the 18th century. Anuradha Jagadeesan et al. Nature Genetics (2018). DOI: 10.1038 / s41588-017-0031-6

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