Where do Syrian Christians come from? DNA testing provides some interesting answers.

Roman trade with ancient Coastal South West India according to the Periplus Maris Erythraei 1st century AD.

Roman trade with ancient Coastal South West India according to the Periplus Maris Erythraei 1st century AD.

Jacob Thomas Manakalathil is running an interesting project on Family Tree DNA.

The legend, and belief of some, is that Syrian Christians of Kerala, started with the arrival of St. Thomas on the Malabar Coast in AD 52 and the establishment of eight churches by him. But, there is more to the story and we decided to ask Jacob Thomas Manakalathil about his project and the findings so far.

What is the purpose of this testing? When did you start?

I am in it by my passion for science and I joined it out of curiosity when National Geographic launched their Genographic project on 13 April 2005, on that very day itself.

My results were a bit peculiar and National Geographic did a lot of tests further to confirm the results. I was myself puzzled to see my results match with those who were a specific group of Jewish people.

I did further testing with my brother and upto sixth generation cousins, whom I have never even met and reconfirmed the results. Then I thought of launching a project on FTDNA who do all the tests for National Geographic.

How does it work? If I wanted to know my roots, what should I do, what elements from the results should I be looking for? Do I need some kind of advanced science degree to understand the results?

To understand the results is not very difficult, no need for a science background, but if you want to go deep into genealogy it will help. I am not a biology background guy and I am a chemical engineer by profession.

How has the response been? Are most of those who test from North America?

So far nearly 600,000 people have tested. From India only between 1300 to 1400 people have joined, out of which at least 140 plus are Malayalees. Most people are Americans and Europeans who are curious to know their roots.

Are results shared publicly? What has been the findings so far? What are the few revelations that has surprised you?

Results could be public or private, you have the choice. Some interesting observations are we have people who have Middle Eastern origin, like Jewish and Arabs who have settled in Kerala for trade. Knaanaya group are as they believe very closely knit group. Some Muslims have shown matches with Arabs who date to the period of origin of Islam. None are having European paternal heritage. No proof yet for Brahminical origins, it appears to be just tall claims. Kerala’s original populations have very few matches with Syrian Christians. Hindu populations who are members of my Kerala project have very few matches indicating they have much older migratory history to our region.

Are you intending to extend this study to other platforms, like 23andme from Google?

No other platforms offer the comprehensive tests and they have a small database which defeats the purpose of the tests.

Jacob Thomas Manakalathil added that the project needs a few thousand volunteers across the spectrum to get representative results and it is going to take time.

If you have questions for Jacob Thomas Manakalathil, please ask them in the comments section. Some of the responses were edited.


  1. Please note typographic errors, it is genealogy not geology, Knaanaya not Kannada.

    1. The errors have been corrected.

  2. During the determination of a DNA sequence there are many
    opportunities for errors. These include simple human errors,
    such as incorrectly recording a sequence from one medium to
    another or misinterpreting experimental data, as might occur
    at a compression in a sequencing gel. Such errors can lead to
    changes in protein coding sequences and obscure the interpretation of the final sequence.
    Did the tester quantitate the DNA using a spectrophotometer
    Did the tester estimate the concentration from a gel?
    A very common error is to submit an erroneous plasmid due to a cloning mistake, rearranged plasmid or damaged priming site. Another common problem is if another plasmid is present which doesn’t prime, effectively diluting the specific plasmid.
    Apart from these errors, common knowledge will tell us that if Nambudiris or Jews had been converted, their population will be greater than Syrian Christians.

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