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“Ancient Genomics Revolution” Now Includes Africa

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Africa genome migrationCAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of scientists has extracted fragments of DNA from the remains of 16 ancient sub-Saharan Africans and compared them to the genomes of living Africans and populations on other continents, according to a report in The New York Times. The oldest sample in the study, which also included the genome extracted from 4,500-year-old bones found in a cave in Ethiopia in 2015, came from 8,100-year-old bones recovered in caves in the highlands of Malawi. Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues think the branches on Africa’s family tree may be older than previously thought. The study also suggests that genes did not flow between Africans and non-Africans for tens of thousands of years. But the 3,100-year-old genes of a girl whose remains were found in Tanzania have been linked to early farmers in the Near East. “This puts a time stamp on this connection,” explained team member Pontus Skoglund. Eventually the Near Eastern farmers reached Africa’s southern edge, where their DNA was found in a 1,200-year-old skeleton. Archaeologists had previously tracked the migration of the Bantu through their iron tools. The new genetic study suggests they may have pushed hunter-gatherers off prime farming land as they traveled. To read about another application of genetics to study of the past, see “The Heights We Go To.”

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