13/05/2015 - 12:00 - Auditori PRBB

In the name of the father: What can the Y chromosome tell us about surnames?

Scientific sessions, CRG Group Leader Seminars

Francesc Calafell

Genomics of Individuality Group, Evolutionary Biology and Complex Systems Research, Dept. CEXS, UPF

Short biography

Francesc Calafell (Manresa, Catalonia, 1966) obtained his B.Sc. in Biology at the University of Barcelona in 1989 and his Ph.D. also at University of Barcelona under the supervision of Jaume Bertranpetit. He was a postdoc at the University of Turin in 1995, and at Yale University during 1996 and 1997. He moved back to University of Bsrcelona, and then to the Pompeu Fabra University in 1998, where he is a professor titular. He has coauthored over 170 papers, mostly in population genetics. From 2005 to 2008 he was a vicedean at the Health and Life Sciences School, UPF. In 2009 he was awarded the Prize for Outstanding Teaching by the Social Council of the UPF, and in 2010 the Icrea Acadèmia Prize. He is married with two sons aged 9 and 6.

He is mostly interested in human genetic diversity, which he analyzes from three different perspectives: in populations, where he tries to answer questions related to their history; in disease, where he is interested in applying an evolutionary approach to describe what can be called the natural history of a disease; and in individuals, where he has worked in statistical aspects of forensic genetics. Lately, he has added a new dimension to the research he leads, by considering the interaction with microorganisms. His current work focuses on surnames and the Y chromosome, and in the geographic structure of genetic variation.


The biological behavior of the Y chromosome implies that males sharing the same surname may also share a similar Y chromosome. However, socio-cultural factors, such as polyphyletism, non-paternity, adoption or matrilineal surname transmission, may disconnect the transmission of the surname and from that of the Y chromosome. By genotyping 17 Y-STRs and 68 SNPs in ~2,500 male samples that carried one of 50 selected Catalan surnames we could determine sets of descendants of a common ancestor, the population of origin of the common ancestor, and the date when such a common ancestor lived. Armed with this possibility, we could tackle questions pertaining to the surname system, to particular types of surnames, or to practical applications of this knowledge. In particular, we tried to address the following:

* Why are some surnames more frequent than others?

* How often the Y chromosome and the surname are not transmitted together?

* Does the linguistic origin of a surname (e.g., surnames with Arabic or Hebrew etymologies) reflect the geographic origin of its founders? And what about demonymic (gentilici) surnames such as Alemany or Danés?

* Can surnames be predicted from anonymous (e.g. forensic) samples?