Qatari people carry genetic trace of early migrants out of Africa

Shards of ancient DNA have been preserved in genomes for 60,000 years

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. — Genetic heirlooms of the some of the first modern humans to migrate out of Africa have been passed down to modern Qataris.

Located on the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar would have been an ideal stop for humans migrating out of Africa, said Juan Rodriguez-Flores, a computational geneticist at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. He and his colleagues reasoned that genetic signatures of early migrants from Africa might still be present in the DNA of modern Qataris.

The researchers examined the genomes of more than 2,300 Qataris and found short stretches of DNA that indicate a population crunch about 60,000 years ago, about the time small bands of migrants are thought to have originally left Africa. Rodriguez-Flores presented the results May 9 at the Biology of Genomes meeting.

These shards of ancient DNA may have stuck around so long because they give people who carry them an evolutionary advantage, Rodriguez-Flores said, although he does not know what the advantage might be.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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