Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

All Europeans related? Genes reveal a continent of cousins.

All Europeans are related, sharing a common ancestor as recently as 1,000 years ago, according to a gene study published today.

By Tia GhoseLive Science Staff Writer / May 7, 2013

Maps that show where the distant cousins of modern-day people in the UK live, at three different levels of relatedness (recent on top, older on the right, oldest on the bottom). Bigger circles mean more ancestors, and numbers give average number of shared genetic alleles.

Ralph P, Coop G/PLOS ONE


Europeans all shared a common ancestor just 1,000 years ago, new genetic research reveals.

Skip to next paragraph

Scientists drew this conclusion, detailed today (May 7) in the journal PLOS Biology, by calculating the length of regions of shared DNA from 2,000 Europeans.

The same technique hasn't been applied to other continents, but people in other parts of the world are just as likely to be closely related, the researchers said.

"In fact, it's likely that everyone in the world is related over just the past few thousand years," said study co-author Graham Coop, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis

All in the family

For more than a decade, researchers calculated theoretically that all people shared common ancestors fairly recently.

To test that theory, Coop and his colleagues analyzed 500,000 spots on the genome of Europeans, from Turkey to the United Kingdom. To untangle European ancestry, they calculated the length of shared segments of DNA, or the molecules that contain the genetic instructions for life. When two people share a longer stretch of identical DNA, they are likely to share a more recent common ancestor, since over time those gene segments evolve and diversify.

The researchers found that all Europeans shared a common ancestor just 1,000 years ago.

There were also some regional surprises.

For instance, Italians are slightly less related to one another than people from other European countries are to one another, perhaps because Italians have had a large, fairly stable population for a few thousand years.

In addition, people from the United Kingdom are more related to people from Ireland than they are to other people from the United Kingdom. That's possibly because many people have migrated from the smaller country of Ireland to the bigger United Kingdom in the past several hundred years, Coop told LiveScience.

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Endeavor Global, cofounded by Linda Rottenberg (here at the nonprofit’s headquarters in New York), helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Linda Rottenberg helps people pursue dreams – and create thousands of jobs

She's chief executive of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit group that gives a leg up to budding entrepreneurs.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!