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Ten Other Men Left Genetic Legacies So Huge They Rival Genghis Khan’s

A new study shows that 10 other men founded large Y-chromosome lineages

Earthwork Portrait of Genghis Khan (Christophe Boisvieux/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Since a 2003 study found evidence that Genghis Khan’s DNA is present in about 16 million men alive today, the Mongolian ruler's genetic prowess has stood as an unparalleled accomplishment. But he isn’t the only man whose reproductive activities still show a significant genetic impact centuries later. A new study conducted by a team of geneticists has found a handful of other men who founded prolific lineages.

To identify those lineages, the geneticists analyzed “the Y chromosomes of more 5,000 men from 127 populations spanning Asia,” Nature News reports. They found 11 Y-chromosome sequences shared by more than 20 of the analyzed subjects. Chalk down one of those as Genghis Khan's, and that leaves 10 other men who founded a long-lived and widely spread family tree.

So who were these other super-fertile fathers? One sequence is attributed to a 16th century Qinq Dynasty ruler named Giocangga, whose Y-chromosome was linked in an earlier study to 1.5 million men in modern northern China. The other nine men are currently mysteries. Yet, by assuming that these men lived in the area where their genome was most commonly found and by studying mutations in the genetic sequences, scientists know that they “originated throughout Asia, from the Middle East to southeast Asia, dating to between 2100 BC and AD 700,” writes Nature News.  

The study, recently published in European Journal of Human Genetics, took into account the social circumstances that enabled these men, their sons and their grandsons to procreate so widely—these big genetic lines began in political and social eras when powerful men fathered children with many different women. Nature News explains:

The founders who lived between 2100 BC and 300 BC existed in both sedentary agricultural societies and nomadic cultures in the Middle East, India, southeast Asia and central Asia. Their dates coincide with the emergence of hierarchical, authoritarian societies in Asia during the Bronze Age, such as the Babylonians. Three lineages dating to more recent times were all linked to nomadic groups in northeast China and Mongolia. These included the lineages linked to Genghis Khan and Giocangga, plus a third line dating to around AD 850.

More research is needed to identify the other nine founders. But one thing is certain: Genghis Khan has never been the only big kid on the (genetic) block.

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