Following the first steps out of Africa
"A major unanswered question regarding the dispersal of modern humans around the world concerns the geographical site of the first steps out of Africa," explains senior study author, Dr. Luísa Pereira from the Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology of the University of Porto in Portugal (IPATIMUP). "One popular model predicts that the early stages of the dispersal took place across the Red Sea to southern Arabia, but direct genetic evidence has been thin on the ground."
The work, led by Dr. Pereira at IPATMUP and Professor Martin Richards at the University of Leeds in the UK, in collaboration with colleagues from across Europe, Arabia, and North Africa, explored this question by analyzing three of the earliest non-African maternal lineages. These early branches are associated with the time period when modern humans first successfully moved out of Africa. The team compared complete mitochondrial DNA genomes from Arabia and the Near East with a database of hundreds more samples from Europe. Mitochondrial DNA traces the female line of descent and is useful for comparing the relatedness between different populations.
The researchers found evidence for an ancient ancestry within Arabia. Professor Richards, who is now Professor of Archaeogenetics at the University of Huddersfield, concludes: "Taken together, our results suggest that Arabia was indeed the first staging-post in the spread of modern humans around the world."
Source: Cell Press via EurekAlert! [January 26, 2012]