As many as 0.5 percent of the world’s male population could be descendants of Genghis Khan, the famously fecund warrior who ruled Mongolia over 700 years ago. These 16 million or so men have nearly identical Y-chromosome sequences. Turns out, there are at least 10 other men who could rival Khan’s genetic legacy, according to a new study published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.
Previous work have identified two other similarly virile founding fathers: Giocangga, whose grandson founded the Qing dynasty in China in the 1600s, and a member of the Irish early medieval ‘Uí Néill’ dynasty. “Lots of men have lots of sons, by chance. But what normally doesn’t happen is the sons have a high probability of having lots of sons themselves,” University of Leicester’s Mark Jobling tells Nature. “You have to have a reinforcing effect.” For example, systems where "prestigious" men father lots children with many women.
To see if additional successful Y-lineage expansions can be identified, a team led by Jobling and Patricia Balaresque from CNRS/Université Paul Sabatier analyzed a total of 5,321 DNA samples from 127 Asian populations between the Middle East and Korea: They collected 461 samples from central Asia and the other 4,860 came from previously published sets. By looking at the accumulated DNA differences in shared sequences, the team was able to figure out when the founder of a lineage lived. And with a few assumptions about where their descendants might have moved over time, the researchers were able to track the geographic origins of these lineages.
Of course, the Y-chromosome lineages of Genghis Khan and Giocangga stood out—and so did nine others, though their identities are unknown right now. Altogether, the descent clusters derived from these 11 founding chromosomes represent 38 percent of the Y-chromosomes analyzed. These newly uncovered, highly represented lineages originated throughout the Asian continent—in both agricultural and nomadic cultures from the Middle East to southeast Asia—and their expansions began between 2100 BC and 1100 AD.