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Bene Israel: Study of Jewish community living in India

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A family of the Bene Israel community in India. Image source: wordpress.com

The Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, in a letter written 800 years ago (circa 1200 CE), briefly mentioned a Jewish community living in India. It is anticipated that he referred to the Bene Israel community.

The Bene Israel community in West India is a unique community whose historical background before the 18th century other than their oral history remains largely unknown.

Oral history among Bene Israel holds that they are descendants of Jews whose ship wrecked on the Konkan shore, with only seven men and seven women surviving. Adding to the vagueness of Bene Israel origin is the fact that a similar story of seven surviving couples is found in the oral histories of other Indian populations.

Here is the Abstract of the Reasearch Article “The Genetics of Bene Israel from India Reveals Both Substantial Jewish and Indian Ancestry”:

Bene Israel members consider themselves as descendants of Jews, yet the identity of Jewish ancestors and their arrival time to India are unknown, with speculations on arrival time varying between the 8th century BCE and the 6th century CE.

Here, we characterize the genetic history of Bene Israel by collecting and genotyping 18 Bene Israel individuals. Combining with 486 individuals from 41 other Jewish, Indian and Pakistani populations, and additional individuals from worldwide populations, we conducted comprehensive genome-wide analyses based on FST, principal component analysis, ADMIXTURE, identity-by-descent sharing, admixture linkage disequilibrium decay, haplotype sharing and allele sharing autocorrelation decay, as well as contrasted patterns between the X chromosome and the autosomes.

The genetics of Bene Israel individuals resemble local Indian populations while at the same time constituting a clearly separated and unique population in India. They are unique among Indian and Pakistani populations we analyzed in sharing considerable genetic ancestry with other Jewish populations.

Putting together the results from all analyses point to Bene Israel being an admixed population with both Jewish and Indian ancestry, with the genetic contribution of each of these ancestral populations being substantial. The admixture took place in the last millennium, about 19–33 generations ago. It involved Middle-Eastern Jews and was sex-biased, with more male Jewish and local female contribution. It was followed by a population bottleneck and high endogamy, which can lead to increased prevalence of recessive diseases in this population.

This study provides an example of how genetic analysis advances our knowledge of human history in cases where other disciplines lack the relevant data to do so.

(The paper was originally published in plos.org. Read full paper here)

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To Ensure Transparency, WHO Panel Aims for Registry of All Human Gene-Editing Research

The WHO panel's statement said any human gene-editing work should be done for research only, should not be done in human clinical trials, and should be conducted transparently.

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A researcher works with embryos at a lab in Shenzhen in southern China's Guandong province, Oct. 9, 2018. An expert committee Tuesday called for the U.N. health agency to create a global registry of scientists working on gene editing. VOA

It would be irresponsible for any scientist to conduct human gene-editing studies in people, and a central registry of research plans should be set up to ensure transparency, World Health Organization experts said Tuesday.

After its first two-day meeting in Geneva, the WHO panel of gene-editing experts — which was established in December after a Chinese scientist said he had edited the genes of twin babies — said it had agreed on a framework for setting future standards.

It said a central registry of all human genome-editing research was needed “in order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work,” and asked the WHO to start setting up such a registry immediately.

“The committee will develop essential tools and guidance for all those working on this new technology to ensure maximum benefit and minimal risk to human health,” Soumya Swamanathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said in a statement.

FILE - He Jiankui, left, and Zhou Xiaoqin work a computer at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province, Oct. 10, 2018. Chinese scientist He says he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies.
– He Jiankui, left, and Zhou Xiaoqin work a computer at a laboratory in Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong province, Oct. 10, 2018. Chinese scientist He says he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies. VOA

A Chinese scientist last year claimed to have edited the genes of twin baby girls.

News of the births prompted global condemnation, in part because it raised the ethical specter of so-called “designer babies” — in which embryos can be genetically modified to produce children with desirable traits.

Top scientists and ethicists from seven countries called last week for a global moratorium on gene editing of human eggs, sperm or embryos that would result in such genetically-altered babies — saying this “could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species.”

The WHO panel’s statement said any human gene-editing work should be done for research only, should not be done in human clinical trials, and should be conducted transparently.

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After its first two-day meeting in Geneva, the WHO panel of gene-editing experts — which was established in December after a Chinese scientist said he had edited the genes of twin babies — said it had agreed on a framework for setting future standards. Pixabay

“It is irresponsible at this time for anyone to proceed with clinical applications of human germline genome editing.”

Also Read: 4 Essential Tips & Tricks for Moving to Another U.S. State

The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed the panel’s initial plans. “Gene editing holds incredible promise for health, but it also poses some risks, both ethically and medically,” he said in a statement.

The committee said it aims over the next two years to produce “a comprehensive governance framework” for national, local and international authorities to ensure human genome-editing science progresses within agreed ethical boundaries. (VOA)