I refer to a study published in 2003 about Icelandic ancestry using DNA tools and genealogical data. The reference is A. Helgason, B. Hrafnkelsson, J.R. Gulcher, R. Ward, and K. Stefansson, "A Population-Wide Coalescent Analysis of Icelandic Matrilineal and Patrilineal Genealogies: Evidence for a Faster Evolutionary Rate of mtDNA Lineages than Y Chromosomes," American Journal of Human Genetics, 72: 1370-1388 (2003). The link is to the HTML version of the full text online; a PDF version is also available.
I learned of this interesting study while reading John M. Butler's Feb. 2006 FARMS article, "Addressing Questions Surrounding The Book of Mormon and DNA Research," prepared in response to a "news" story on DNA and the Book of Mormon in the LA Times. Dr. Butler's perspectives merit careful attention. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Butler on the Icelandic results:
An interesting study reported in the June 2003 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics leads me to believe that it is possible for Book of Mormon peoples to be ancestors of modern Native Americans and yet not be easily detected using traditional Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests. This study, conducted by a group of scientists from a company called deCODE Genetics, used the extensive genealogies of people from Iceland combined with probably the most massive population study ever performed. They traced the matrilineal and patrilineal ancestry of all 131,060 Icelanders born after 1972 back to two cohorts of ancestors, one born between 1848 and 1892 and the other between 1798 and 1742.If genetic evidence for many known ancestors of Icelandic people does not show up in DNA testing after just two hundred years, all traces of Lehi and Sariah could easily have vanished among modern Native Americans based on Y-Chromosome and mtDNA testing, respectively.
Examining the same Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA markers used in other genetic studies, these 131,060 Icelanders revealed highly skewed distributions of descendants to ancestors, with the vast majority of potential ancestors contributing one or no descendants and a minority of ancestors contributing large numbers of descendants. In other words, the majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago that could not be detected based on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests being performed yet the genealogical records exist showing that these people lived and were real ancestors. To the point at hand, if many documented ancestors of 150 years ago cannot be seen with Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests from modern Iceland, then the possibility can exist for people that are reported in the Book of Mormon to have migrated to the Americas over 2600 years ago and yet not have detectable genetic signatures today. [italics in the original]
On the other hand, since we don't know anything substantial about Lehi's DNA and certainly not Sariah's, it seems difficult to be sure that genetic traces aren't present. But that's OK. If you want to leave the Church because a lot of Asians came to the Americas anciently (possibly including the Jaredites) as well as Lehi's little boatload of people, that's as good a reason as any, I'm sure. Ditto for those who want out because many Church leaders have made overly simplistic comments regarding the origins of Native Americans, not appreciating the significance of non-Book of Mormon migrations or the geographical limitations present in the text. Make sure your next church fills its leadership positions with professional anthropologists. I also think that LDS leadership is weak in quantum mechanics and astrophysics, but that's a complaint for a future post on this blog.