Jewish Genetic Disorders

What is a genetic disorder?

A genetic disorder is a condition caused by an abnormality in an individual’s DNA.

What are Jewish genetic disorders (JGDs)?

These are genetic disorders which are more common in people who have Jewish ancestry than those in the general population. Having Jewish ancestry can be defined as having one or more Jewish grandparent. 

This does not mean that only Jewish people are affected, but it does mean that Jewish people, or those of Jewish descent, have an increased risk of having one of these conditions.

Why are certain disorders more common among Jewish people?

Many years ago, Jewish communities were small and isolated, with members tending to marry within their communities. A small number of people over many, many generations can pass on a DNA abnormality within an ethnic community, even when that community is no longer small and isolated. For this reason, most ethnic groups have genetic disorders which are more common in that population than in the rest of the world.

Do Jewish genetic disorders affect Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews?

Yes. Many assume that this phenomenon only applies to Ashkenazi Jews. However, JGDs impact Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews too.

Unlike Ashkenazi disorders which are relevant to all types of Ashkenazi Jews irrespective of country of origin,  Sephardi and Mizrahi JGDs are often linked to country of origin. For example, Iranian Jews are at risk of carrying different JGDs to Iraqi Jews, and again to Yemenite Jews.

There are some JGDs that are relevant to more than one Sephardi sub-group, and some that are relevant to both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews.

How are Jewish genetic disorders inherited?

Genetic disorders can be passed to the next generation via autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive or X-linked inheritance. Jewish genetic disorders can often be classified and described according to the way they are inherited i.e. recessive Jewish genetic disorders vs dominant Jewish genetic disorders. You can ready much more about this at the links above. 

How common are Jewish genetic disorders?

The majority of the recessive JGDs conditions are rare. However, it is not uncommon for people to be a ‘carrier’ for one or more disorders and therefore at increased risk of having an affected child. You can read more about what it means to be a carrier for a recessive disorder here. 

Anybody of Jewish ancestry has a 1 in 3 chance of carrying one or more of the  47 severe recessive Jewish genetic disorders that Jnetics tests for.

Some dominant Jewish genetic disorders are common too. Most importantly, BRCA gene mutations disproportionately impact those of Jewish ancestry  

1 in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, and 1 in 140 people of Sephardi Jewish origin have a BRCA gene mutation, compared to 1 in 250 people in the general population. 

You can read much more about BRCA gene mutations and BRCA gene testing here.  You can read about other JGDs, excluding BRCA and the recessive disorders covered by the Jnetics test here. 

Dominant inheritance

Autosomal dominant inheritance occurs when an alteration in just one copy of an inherited gene pair causes a genetic disorder.

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Recessive inheritance

Autosomal recessive inheritance occurs when alterations in both copies of an inherited gene pair are required to cause a genetic disorder.

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Introduction to Genetics

Genetics is the scientific study of inheritance, or how particular qualities, traits, or genes are transmitted from parents to their children.

Basic concepts in genetics: