Sorbian Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

by Kevin Alan Brook

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Sorbs (also known as Wends) are an ethnic group living in eastern Germany near Poland and the Czech Republic. Their language (called Sorbian or Wendisch) is part of the West Slavic linguistic family. There are Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian dialects, both of which are written in Latin characters.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Sorbs are also genetically related to other West Slavic peoples, especially Poles and Czechs.

Family Tree DNA kit number 251394, with a Sorbian maternal lineage from Lusatia, is classified as belonging to the mitochondrial haplogroup U4 and more specifically according to 23andMe to U4a2a. The kit is a member of the "Germany-mt-DNA" and "mtDNA haplogroup U4" projects. U4a is known to be most common among Poles and Russians. Family Tree DNA kits belonging to those projects who possess varieties of U4a include maternal lines of Polish, Russian, German, Swedish, Finnish, Lithuanian, Slovak, Belgian, English, Irish, and Swiss origins. Of those with U4a2a in particular, they include lines from Germany, Denmark, Slovakia, and Lithuania, and U4a2a1 is found among Swedes and Poles. Researchers believe U4a may have originated in East-Central Europe.

Paul Wexler's hypothesis that Ashkenazi Jews descend from Sorbs who converted to Judaism was introduced in his 1993 book The Ashkenazic Jews. It has close to no evidence to support it and in the years since its publication he himself has backtracked away from the idea. We cannot even prove that Sorbs were responsible for introducing the Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1 into the Ashkenazic community.

Major studies of Sorbs

Krishna R. Veeramah, Anke Tönjes, Peter Kovacs, Arnd Gross, Daniel Wegmann, Patrick Geary, Daniela Gasperikova, Iwar Klimes, Markus Scholz, John Novembre, and Michael Stumvoll. "Genetic variation in the Sorbs of eastern Germany in the context of broader European genetic diversity." European Journal of Human Genetics 19 (2011): pages 995-1001. Published online on May 11, 2011 in advance of its print publication.
      Sorbs are genetically closest to Czech people, and next-closest to Poles. Excerpts from the Abstract:

"[...] To examine Sorbian genetic diversity within the context of other European populations, we analyzed genotype data for over 30,000 autosomal single-nucleotide polymorphisms from over 200 Sorbs individuals. We compare the Sorbs with other European individuals, including samples from population isolates. Despite their geographical proximity to German speakers, the Sorbs showed greatest genetic similarity to Polish and Czech individuals, consistent with the linguistic proximity of Sorbian to other West Slavic languages. The Sorbs also showed evidence of subtle levels of genetic isolation in comparison with samples from non-isolated European populations. The level of genetic isolation was less than that observed for the Sardinians and French Basque, who were clear outliers on multiple measures of isolation. [...]"

Anke Tönjes, Eleftheria Zeggini, Peter Kovacs, Yvonne Böttcher, Dorit Schleinitz, Kerstin Dietrich, Andrew P. Morris, Beate Enigk, Nigel W Rayner, Moritz Koriath, Markus Eszlinger, Anu Kemppinen, Inga Prokopenko, Katrin Hoffmann, Daniel Teupser, Joachim Thiery, Knut Krohn, Mark I. McCarthy, and Michael Stumvoll. "Association of FTO variants with BMI and fat mass in the self-contained population of Sorbs in Germany." European Journal of Human Genetics 18:1 (January 2010): pages 104-110. First published online on July 8, 2009. Excerpts:

"[...] The Sorbs are of Slavonic origin, and lived in ethnic isolation among the Germanic majority during the past 1100 years. [...] This historical evidence establishing the Sorbs as a genetic isolate is substantiated by extended homozygosity and differences in allele frequency distribution compared with an outbred population. [...]"

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  • Smallest Slavonic Nation: Sorbs of Lusatia by Gerald Stone
  • Slav Outposts in Central European History: The Wends, Sorbs and Kashubs by Gerald Stone
  • Sorbian-English, English-Sorbian Concise Dictionary by Mercin Strauch
  • Aussagenstruktur im Sorbischen. Untersuchungen zur Syntax und Satzsemantik by Timo Meškank
  • Die Sorben und Wenden in deutschen Konversationslexika des 19. Jahrhunderts by Cornelius Lehmann

  • Genetics of Polish People
  • Genetics of Czech People