Genetic Chaos

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Extensive Female-Mediated Gene Flow from Sub-Saharan Africa into Near Eastern Arab Populations

We have analyzed and compared mitochondrial DNA variation of populations from the Near East and Africa and found a very high frequency of African lineages present in the Yemen Hadramawt: more than a third were of clear sub-Saharan origin. Other Arab populations carried 10% lineages of sub-Saharan origin, whereas non-Arab Near Eastern populations, by contrast, carried few or no such lineages, suggesting that gene flow has been preferentially into Arab populations. Several lines of evidence suggest that most of this gene flow probably occurred within the past 2,500 years. In contrast, there is little evidence for male-mediated gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa in Y-chromosome haplotypes in Arab populations, including the Hadramawt. Taken together, these results are consistent with substantial migration from eastern Africa into Arabia, at least in part as a result of the Arab slave trade, and mainly female assimilation into the Arabian population as a result of miscegenation and manumission.

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The African Diaspora: Mitochondrial DNA and the Atlantic Slave Trade

Between the 15th and 19th centuries AD, the Atlantic slave trade resulted in the forced movement of ~13 million people from Africa, mainly to the Americas. Only ~11 million survived the passage, and many more died in the early years of captivity. We have studied 481 mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) of recent African ancestry in the Americas and in Eurasia, in an attempt to trace them back to particular regions of Africa. Our results show that mtDNAs in America and Eurasia can, in many cases, be traced to broad geographical regions within Africa, largely in accordance with historical evidence, and raise the possibility that a greater resolution may be possible in the future. However, they also indicate that, at least for the moment, considerable caution is warranted when assessing claims to be able to trace the ancestry of particular lineages to a particular locality within modern-day Africa.

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