Did a relatively small number of people from Siberia who trekked across a Bering Strait land bridge some 12,000 years ago give rise to the native peoples of North and South America?
Or did the ancestors of todays native peoples come from other parts of Asia or Polynesia, arriving multiple times at several places on the two continents, by sea as well as by land, in successive migrations that began as early as 30,000 years ago?
The questions featured on magazine covers and TV specials have agitated anthropologists, archaeologists and others for decades.
University of Michigan scientists, working with an international team of geneticists and anthropologists, have produced new genetic evidence thats likely to hearten proponents of the land bridge theory. The study, published online in PLoS Genetics, is one of the most comprehensive analyses so far among efforts to use genetic data to shed light on the topic.
The researchers examined genetic variation at 678 key locations or markers in the DNA of present-day members of 29 Native American populations across North, Central and South America. They also analyzed data from two Siberian groups. The analysis shows:
o genetic diversity, as well as genetic similarity to the Siberian groups, decreases the farther a native population is from the Bering Strait adding to existing archaeological and genetic evidence that the ancestors of native North and South Americans came by the northwest route.
o a unique genetic variant is widespread in Native Americans across both American continents suggesting that the first humans in the Americas came in a single migration or multiple waves from a single source, not in waves of migrations from different sources. The variant, which is not part of a gene and has no biological function, has not been found in genetic studies of people elsewhere in the world except eastern Siberia.
The researchers say the variant l
|Contact: Anne Rueter|
University of Michigan Health System