LONDON – Tom Robinson had long wondered about his family tree. He never suspected its roots might lie in the Mongolian steppe.
The Florida accountant knew his great-great-grandfather came to America from England – but beyond that the trail went cold. So he turned to “bioarchaeology” to test his DNA.
He was in for a surprise. According to a British geneticist who pioneered the research, Robinson appears to be a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, the Mongol warrior.
Some scientists say that claim goes too far, though few doubt Robinson’s DNA reveals a direct genetic link to Mongolia.
When he got the call from the British firm Oxford Ancestors about an unlikely ancestor, “My first impression was, ‘Oh no, who is it?’ imagining it was Adolf Hitler or something like that,” said Robinson, 48. “So I was actually pleasantly surprised.”
The news has led Robinson to plan a trip to Mongolia, and to wonder whether he, an associate professor of accountancy at the University of Miami, could have any similarity to the 13th-century scourge of two continents.
Unlike the Mongol warlord, he has no military background. But he says he is comfortable in a leadership role.
“When I practiced as a CPA I ran the department,” he said.
Oxford Ancestors is a commercial firm established in 2001 by Oxford University geneticist Bryan Sykes, which offers DNA testing to roots-seekers around the world.
Sykes believes DNA can be used to map humanity’s common ancestry. In 1994, he extracted DNA from a frozen 5,000-year-old corpse found in the Tyrolean Alps, and identified a woman living in Britain as his descendant.
His book, “The Seven Daughters of Eve,” claims that 95 percent of Europeans are descended from seven tribal matriarchs who lived between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago.
For $335, Oxford Ancestors will map customers’ ancient maternal or paternal ancestry based on a sample of their DNA. The paternal test works by mapping patterns of DNA within the Y chromosome, the genetic material handed down from fathers to sons that changes little over generations.
Women don’t have a Y chromosome, so only men can take the paternal ancestry test.
One particular pattern within the Y, Sykes believes, indicates a genetic link to Genghis Khan.
He is not alone in this belief. Research by an international team of 23 geneticists published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2003 suggested that 16 to 17 million men, most in Central Asia, shared a form of the Y chromosome that indicates a common ancestor.
They said the obvious candidate is Genghis Khan.
“How this chromosome came to be so prominent was that when he conquered new territory, Genghis Khan would kill the men and routinely inseminate all the women,” Sykes said.