Lehi and DNA X-theory is complicated

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2009 12:15 a.m. MDT

The is the last in a series of four articles. See the first part here, the second part here and the third part here.

A, B, C, D.

These four letters represented the first DNA classifications of Native Americans into similar lineages, or haplogroups.

Things were simpler then — and so were the conclusions.

Because A, B, C and D appear to be Asian in origin, some said this proved the Book of Mormon false. But even then, a simple understanding of DNA showed that it would have been possible, or even probable, that we wouldn't find traceable DNA evidence from a small group of Israelites coming to a largely populated continent.

Enter X.

A few years later, the story became more complicated. A fifth haplogroup was found in Native Americans. Ironically, the letter chosen to identify the new haplogroup was the mysterious letter X. "Studies confirmed the presence of X in the Americas," said Ugo Perego, senior researcher at Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, "particularly in the Great Lake regions of northern North America — but also in other areas to a lesser extent such as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona."

X was an enigma. Unlike A, B, C and D, it was rare in the world. X lineages were found in West Eurasia — an area that stretches from Scandinavia down to the Middle East.

It was also found in Asia.

The gauntlet was thrown down. Was the X found among Native Americans from the Middle East or Asia? Did it have anything to do with the Book of Mormon?

"Some people believe that haplogroup X is of Near Eastern origins and (they said) the fact that you find it in the Americas … proves the Book of Mormon to be historically correct and true and the people existed," Perego said.

Others took an opposite view.

"Other people, both from the LDS background and the critics, argued that haplogroup X is of Asian origins, just like the other Native American lineages, and arrived to America through Beringia (through the Bering Straits ancient land bridge), more than 10,000 years ago. Therefore it has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon people," Perego said.

Studies from 2001 indicated that the X haplogroup of American Indians came from Middle East or European lineages via Asia. A group in Asia, the Altaians in upper Mongolia, have the X haplogroup lineage, and so were thought to show the Asian source of the Native American X lineage.

These studies, however, were low resolution. They only analyzed a small portion of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). It was like looking at an area code. Soon, technology advanced and geneticists started looking at full sequences of mtDNA — like looking at a whole phone number. It didn't change the general information, but the details made a difference.

As higher resolution studies progressed, the Native American haplogroup classifications were made more specific with the addition of numbers: A2, B2, C1, D1 and X2a.

In 2003, high-resolution data from complete sequences of mtDNA gave a different story. It appeared that the Native American X (X2a) did not have any close match anywhere in the Old World. It also did not match and was an older lineage than the Asian X of the Altaians.

Current published data indicates that Native Americans belonged to a branch of X that split from the other X lineages near the beginning of X's spread out from the Middle East. It was old, but it wasn't Asian.

Last year a study suggested that the Druze religious minority of northern Israel represented a surviving population of the source of X lineages.

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