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Out of Africa -- Bacteria, as well

When man made his way out of Africa some 60,000 years ago to populate the world, he was not alone: He was accompanied by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which causes gastritis in many people today. Together, man and the bacterium spread throughout the entire world. This is the conclusion reached by an international team of scientists led by Mark Achtman from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany. The researchers also discovered that differences developed in the genetic makeup of the bacteria populations, just as it did in that of the various peoples of the world. This has also given scientists new insight into the paths taken by man as he journeyed across the Earth (Nature online, February 7, 2007).

More than half of all human beings are infected with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that can cause stomach ulcers. Like humans, the bacteria are also split up into numerous regional populations. A team of scientists led by Mark Achtman at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, François Balloux at the University of Cambridge and Sebastian Suerbaum at Hanover Medical University have found signs of the parallel evolution of man and H. pylori. Using mathematical simulations, the researchers demonstrated that H. pylori must have left East Africa at the same time as man - around 60,000 years ago. This astonishing conformity was uncovered by scientists when they compared the nucleotide sequencing patterns in the DNA of human and H. pylori populations.

In order to characterise the individual populations, the scientists employed the principle of isolation by distance. According to this principle, the genetic distance between two populations has a linear correlation with the length of the migration paths taken since they were separated. "It's actually quite logical," explains Dr. Mark Achtman, "because in the time that elapses after a population leaves its point of origin, the number of mutations in its genetic makeup
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Source:Max-Planck-Gesellschaft


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