[THS] Plotting Darwin's path out of Africa
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Sat Feb 20 16:00:23 CET 2010
February 11, 2010 5:17 PM
Plotting Darwin's path out of Africa
Wendy Zukerman, Australasia reporter
Charles Darwin hypothesised 150 years ago that all humans evolved from common
ancestors. And this week in Sydney, Australia, his great-great-grandson helped prove
Chris Darwin, nicknamed "The Missing Link" in school, is Charles' paternal great-
great-grandson. His DNA was analysed as part of the Genographic Project.
British newspaper The Daily Telegraph writes, "The ambitious Genographic Project, a
five-year initiative backed by National Geographic and IBM, uses powerful new
technology to examine DNA, allowing scientists to see back to the very earliest days of
the human species and map how and when they moved around the globe.
Because genetic information is passed from father to son via the Y chromosome, Mr
Darwin would share a large part of his genetic data with his great-great
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, "Darwin's ancestors left Africa about
45,000 years ago, and then migrated north into the Middle East."
Like 70 per cent of men in southern England, Darwin descended from haplogroup
R1b. PhysOrg.com quoted Spencer Wells, the director of the project: "Men belonging
to haplogroup R1b are direct descendants of the Cro-Magnon people who, beginning
30,000 years ago, dominated the human expansion into Europe and heralded the
demise of the Neanderthal species." Wells said he was not surprised by the findings,
since haplogroup R1b is the most common European male lineage.
Unfortunately for the world of science, Chris Darwin told The New Zealand Herald, "I
failed my biology exams at school, so I didn't inherit Charles's scientific ability."
The Genographic Project has already collected DNA from more than 50,000
indigenous people and about 350,000 members of the public worldwide, says Wells,
who told New Scientist that these recent samples, combined with ancient human
DNA, can show the place and timing of migratory routes.
Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of
Adelaide, who is also involved with the project, said "Because we can carbonate
ancient skeletons we can work out when a genetic type was in a particular
More variation within a particular mutation also helps dating migration patterns, as it
is evidence that the mutation happened a while ago, says Cooper.
Late last year, the "out of Africa" theory was questioned by the finding of a Homo
sapiens jawbone in China presumed to be 110,000 years old.
However, this project, and others using DNA to track human migrations, support the
theory that the world's human population originally migrated from Africa.
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