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, FranÃ§ois 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