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McGill University and Big Data Institute researchers have developed a new method to simulate genomes based on a population-scale genealogy dating back to the arrival of the first French settlers in Canada.

Researchers at NDM’s Big Data Institute are part of a team of researchers led by McGill University who has conducted the first genetic study in any worldwide population to use genealogical records to provide an accurate map of genetic relatedness at a population scale. The study was published yesterday in Science.

Though we all share common ancestors ranging from a few generations to hundreds of thousands of years, genealogies that relate all of us are often forgotten over time. This study provides new insight into the complex relationship between human migration and genetic variation, using a unique genealogical dataset of over five million records spanning 400 years to unravel the genetic structure of French Canadian populations.

By comparing the simulations to real genetic data, they have been able to prove that the genetic structure of this population was encoded within its genealogy. Genealogy is a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor.

By tracing the ancestry of millions of individuals over space and time, the study bridges the gaps between family pedigrees and continental population structure, providing valuable insights into the complex tapestry of human genetic history.

Associate Professor Jerome Kelleher, Robertson Fellow and Group Leader in Biomedical Data Science at the Big Data Institute said: ‘Geneticist often rely on simulations to assess accuracy and robustness of methods for genetic risk prediction, which can help us to understand the role that our genes play in our risk of developing health conditions. By creating this large, freely available simulated dataset with a realistic population structure and mating patterns, we hope that we can improve our ability to identify and predict genetic diseases and subsequently improve medical treatments.’

Associate Professor Simon Gravel, Department of Human Genetics at McGill University said: ‘This study tells the genetic story of French Canadians, showing that their population structure today is not a result of ancestral French population structure, but rather one that has been shaped by events in North America over the past four centuries. Beyond mapping the rich genetic history of French Canadians, the findings have significant implications for understanding the impact of migration on genetic variation and the broader history of humanity.’

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