Book of Mormon DNA
The Book of Mormon claims that a family left Jerusalem and traveled to somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Up until very recently there has been very little support for this claim found in the DNA sequencing of Native Americans. However, recent findings appear to indicate that this DNA does make an appearance with the same genetic markings as the American Indians. This article addresses the following points:
DNA from the Middle East in American Indian population
As of November 2013, both National Geographic and Smithsonian magazine are reporting on a DNA finding in Siberia reported by Nature. Two genome structures contain markers that are specifically unique to Native Americans. Both of them also bear markers that derive from the Middle East and Western Eurasia with no close affinity to east Asians. It estimates that 14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through this gene flow. According to our current understanding of mtDNA dating, this genome was already present in the native population at the time the Book of Mormon claims and Lehi's DNA would have blended indistinguishably with this genome.
Earliest related discovery date: November 2013
DNA and genetics in the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon contains three groups of people that are found or end up in the Western Hemisphere. The first group that a reader encounters is the family of Lehi, which begins their journey from Jerusalem. Group two is found on the Western Hemisphere, but they also claim to have originated from Jerusalem. The third group is also found on the Western Hemisphere and claims to have been on the continent long before the other two groups. LDS scholars have indicated from as early as 1927 that this third group originated from Asia.
Tracing the family of Lehi:
Identifying exactly what genetic markers we are looking for from the family that left Jerusalem is not as clear cut as it may seem. However, the book does contain some information about the descendants of Lehi, and it is claimed that he lived in Jerusalem, so we can assume some things about his genetic makeup. According to 1 Nephi 5:14 Lehi is a descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, so he most likely picked up genetic markers from both Egypt and Jerusalem. These markers are probably not specific enough to isolate him to such a small region, but enough to tell us that his DNA should have markers that place him in Western Asia or Mid Eurasia, where Egypt and Jerusalem are located geographically.
While genetics from East Asia are common knowledge, genetics from western Asia, where the Middle East is, has been scarce. Most LDS apologists have had to take the matter on faith, or make some pretty interesting stretches. However, two genome sequences have recently been completed that produce some very fascinating results.
Middle East and Eurasia genetics in the American Indians:
Both National Geographic and The Smithsonian Magazine have published articles about a discovery out of Siberia. Two separate skeletal findings have been sequenced and the DNA genomes contain markers that are found only in the American Indians. What's more is that the genomes have "no close affinity to east Asians." Instead, they have markers indicating that they descended from "western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe." This appears to match fairly well with the geography claimed by the Book of Mormon.
The study estimates "that 14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population." The study has been published in the November 20th edition of Nature.
Dating of DNA evidence:
The one thing that doesn't match the claims of the Book of Mormon is that the DNA dates back to 24,000 years ago. The way that this date is determined is based on Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The understanding is that mtDNA should have a genetic variation once about every 300 generations. This fits well into Darwin's estimate and our current understanding on the theory of evolution and how long life has been on the planet. However, contrary to this understanding, two separate studies have found that this genetic variation is occurring about 10 times more frequently, once every 33 generations.
The math on this is incredibly complex based on several factors. If these studies were accurate, it means that the dating that is used in mtDNA analysis is off by 20 fold, which means that the dates between one genetic variation to the next would shrink on our current scale by each step back in time. Ignoring the mathematical compression and simply using the 10 times more frequently approach would place us further out than is really accurate. Of course, that would put the furthest known date out to 2,400 years ago and we know, according to our current understanding of genetics, that this is just not possible. At the time of this writing our current understanding of genetics is based on a curve. Basically, our current mtDNA clock is on a decay rate that slows down as time goes by. This allows our mtDNA clock to match these recent findings and still fit with our overall scientific understanding of evolutionary time.
If our current understanding of mtDNA timing is correct, it means that the genome that matches the family of Lehi was already in the Western Hemisphere at the time that the Book of Mormon claims he arrived. Lehi's DNA would have blended indistinguishably with this genome.
The Church's official statment on DNA can be found here: Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
|References according to the 1st edition Book of Mormon||Show|