16.09.2011

Genetics could clear up the mystery of Christopher Columbus? origin.

Scientists at the Universities of Granada and Rome, with Francesc Calafell, a researcher at the Evolutionary Biology Institute (UPF-CSIC), and the participation of the Omnium Cultural Centre for Columbus Studies , have studied the genetic origins of people with the surnames of Colom and Colombo.

The research, which was published in the online edition of the European Journal of Human Genetics on August 17, consisted of analysing the Y chromosome from 238 men with the surname Colom from Catalonia, Mallorca and Valencia, and 114 men with the surname Colombo from north-west Italy.

The Y chromosome is only present in men, and almost all the genes in this chromosome are for the development of masculine sexual characteristics. These diferential biological characters are therefore transmitted in men, as are their surnames.

Colom and Colombo - two modern surnames with a different origin

The results of the study revealed that in the Mi ddle Ages, the surname Colom originated independently at a few points in time and that today, the descendants of each founder live in very well defined areas of Catalonia, such as La Garrotxa and some places in Mallorca and El Maestrat (Castellón, Valencia)

However, it also found that men surnamed Colombo are as genetically diverse as the general Italian population, which suggests that almost all of them are descended from different ancestors. Interestingly, according to Francesc Calafell, is that "the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan used to give the surname Colombo to the orphans taken in there, and Colombo is the most common surname in Lombardy."

This research opens up a new debate and is the basis for resolving the true origins of Christopher Columbus. According to most historians, the discoverer was born in Genoa (Italy) but others, like Lluís de Yzaguirre, a researcher at the Applied Linguistics Institute of the UPF, rules out a Genoan origin, basing his argument on linguistic and biographical details.

As a result, planning of the study started in 2003, when scientists from the University of Granada obtained genetic samples of Christopher Columbus' remains. The team of researchers then considered obtaining genetic samples from men with the surnames of Colom and Colombo, and after these had been obtained and were available for analysis, Professor Calafell carried out the experimental biological study and the statistical analysis in order to obtain the results in the recently published article.

The genetic study of the remains of Christopher Columbus will cast new light on this enigma, if the analysis of the biological remains shows any coincidence with the Y Chromosome of contemporary men with the surnames of Colom or Colombo.