There’s a cluster of Y-chromosomes found in inner Eurasia that vary only slightly, and thus must have a recent common ancestor. They are surprisingly common: there are something like 16 million carriers.  The analysts who discovered this (Zerjal et al) concluded the men with these Y-chromosomes are the direct male-line descendants of Genghis Khan,  the Master of Thrones and Crowns.  They have to be right: no one else conquered such a vast empire and had his sons (and their sons, and so on) rule and enjoy their harems for centuries.  More than that, the Golden Family continued to have high social status long after the fall of the dynasties,  even into recent times.

Since power descended through the male line, you don’t expect to see the same thing happen with autosomal genes. Genghis accounts for about 25% of Mongolia’s Y-chromosomes, but the general ancestry fraction attributable to him must be a lot lower.  Still, what if the average Mongol today is 0.5% Genghis? Upon sequencing lots of typical  contemporary Mongols, you would notice certain chromosomal segments showing up again and again: not just in one family but in the whole country,  and in other parts of inner Asia as well.  If you started keeping track of those segments, you would eventually be able to make a partial reconstruction of Genghis’s genome.  It would be incomplete, since any given region of the genome might have missed being transmitted to any of his four legitimate sons (Jochi, Chagatai, Ogedei, and Tolui).  They certainly didn’t carry his X-chromosome.  You might be able to distinguish the autosomal genes of Genghis and his wife Borte by looking at descendants of his by-blows, if you could find them.  Still, even if you managed to retrieve 75% of his genome, that’s not enough to make a clone.  It would however,  allow sure identification if we found his tomb.

And since he’s likely buried in permafrost,  his DNA could be in good shape.  Then we could clone him (assuming reasonable continuing progress in genetics) and of course some damn fool would. Will.

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16 Responses to Reconstruction

  1. dearieme says:

    Well thank God cavalry isn’t too much of a threat any more.

  2. B says:

    Genghis had quite a biography in his formative years; somehow, I doubt that even a clone raised by a Chinese Wolf Dad/Eagle Dad would come close.

  3. ziel says:

    What would be the most “anti-Genghis” home environment in which to raise our young clone if we wanted to give the nature/nurture debate a good test case. A lesbian couple on the Upper East Side?

  4. dearieme says:

    Could they clone Christ from any of his DNA clinging to the Shroud of Turin? Or from the sundry Crowns of Thorns and Holy Foreskins available widely on the continent? What on earth would his y chromosome be like?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I would be a whole lot more impressed with a Mamouth clone than the second coming of Genghis. But maybe the ladies would think differently. His sperm might be a best seller if there ever was a celebrity sperm bank, at least in his neck of the woods.Then again he might disapoint us all and be a five foot tall computer nerd.

  6. B says:


    Nah, he’d rebel against his moms and use his Choate and Columbia education to go join the CIA or something. The SWPLs are still ok about producing adventurers, extreme sports guys, etc. on their fringe.

    I’d say an even split between modern Japan (they can turn samurai genes into otaku nerd memes!) and the projects-the highest he’d get if raised by an obese Precious-type single mother would probably be the head of the local Bloods chapter.

  7. JW says:

    Genghis Khan was mainly active in Central and Eastern Asia, so it’s not surprising that his descendants are among Central and East Asian populations.

    But what about his own racial ancestry?

    Have you read Karl Earlson’s piece on him?

    Here is the piece:

    He cites many sources and argues pretty effectively that he was of strongly Nordish racial ancestry.

    What is your view on this?

  8. Sean says:

    “Genghis accounts for about 25% of Mongolia’s Y-chromosomes,”
    If I understand correctly Y-chomosomes are the ones that have the chance to really hit the jackpot. Would that not lead to Y-chomosomes being selected for jackpot hitting. Genghis’s Y-chomosome had a track record before it landed in Genghis.

  9. gcochran says:

    Sean, you are an inverse weathervane.

  10. Sean says:

    Modulation of brain β-endorphin concentration by the specific part of the Y chromosome in mice β-endorphin is supposed to affect social interactions among other things. Y- chromosome brain tweaks seem not implausible to me.

  11. Didn’t the Mongols practice sky burial during the lifetime of Genghis Khan? His DNA would have been destroyed in the stomachs of buzzards.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      not for Genghis they didn’t. they went to great pains to keep his final resting place well hidden, including the murder of all of the workers who made his tomb.

  12. Abelard Lindsey says:

    And since he’s likely buried in permafrost, his DNA could be in good shape. Then we could clone him (assuming reasonable continuing progress in genetics) and of course some damn fool would. Will.

    This could be the background plot for J.J. Abram’s next Star Trek movie. Singh Noonian Khan has to come from somewhere.

  13. ohwilleke says:

    “even if you managed to retrieve 75% of his genome, that’s not enough to make a clone”
    Retrieving 75% of his genome would leave you quite a bit better off than you’d naively expect because the founding Mongol population from which he emerged doesn’t have heaps of genetic diversity. Using modal Mongol genes for the balance of his genome wouldn’t be a perfect reconstruction, but it would be far more complete, to a far greater degree of precision that one would think. Moreover, to the extent that you have loci in that missing 25% where there is more than one variant in the Mongol founding population, and that loci is known to code for a phenotype, it is quite possible that historical accounts may permit an educated guess regarding which of those phenotypes he had.

    In addition, there is every reason to think that while the population made up of his descendants may have been heavily outbred, that the population made up of his ancestors may have been heavily inbred. So, phenotypical and genetic evidence regarding his cousins, clan, or any other higher resolution genotyping of a population narrower than Mongolians tied to him would be informative and since his conquest probably benefited these people, elevated gene types in his empire of genes we don’t have and that couldn’t have come from him may still be favored as fill in the blank genotypes.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this kind of work could retrieve close to 98% of his genome with accuracies not all that much worse than experimental error in sequencing of ancient DNA.

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