By Richard Alleyne | The laboratory which invented genetic fingerprinting believes the same technique could be refined to reveal the surnames of men.
A study of more than 2,500 men bearing over five hundred different surnames found those with the same family name are highly likely to be genetically linked.
The system works by isolating the Y chromosome of the DNA which – like a surname – is passed down the male line virtually untouched. This is then cross-matched against a proposed database of more than 40,000 names.
Despite many names in this country being hundreds of years old there is still on average a quarter chance that a match can be found, the research suggests.
With rarer names such as Attenborough, Swindlehurst and Kettley there is a higher the percentage likelihood of a match, with up to 87 per cent chance they will share a common genetic inheritance.
Dr Turi Kin of the University of Leicester, who carried out the research, said the technique could help genealogists as well as police investigating crimes.
Dr King said: “In Britain, surnames are passed down from father to son. A piece of our DNA, the Y chromosome, is the one part of our genetic material that confers maleness and is passed, like surnames, from father to son. Therefore, a link could exist between a man’s surname and the type of Y chromosome he carries. A simple link between name and Y chromosome could in principle connect all men sharing a surname into one large family tree.
Dr King said that the system could be a “useful investigative tool”.
“We could take DNA from the scene of a crime and come up with a possible surname for the culprit”, she said.
“It could help prioritise an investigation and point detectives to the right door to knock. The rarer the surname, the stronger the link.”
Dr King works in the Genetics Department of the university where the revolutionary technique of genetic fingerprinting was invented by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys in 1984.
For the research, she recruited more than two and a half thousand men bearing over 500 different surnames to take part in the study including the scientist Sir David Attenborough.
Dr King’s research showed that on average between two men who share the same surname there is a 24 per cent chance of sharing a common ancestor through that name but that this increases to nearly 50 per cent if the surname they have is rare.
Dr King then went on to look at 40 surnames in depth by recruiting many different men all bearing the same surname, making sure that she excluded known relatives.
Surnames such as Attenborough and Swindlehurst showed that on average more than 70 per cent of the men shared the same or near identical Y chromosome types.
Events such as adoptions, name-changes and non-paternities would also confuse any simple genetic link.