Early humans migrating from Africa carried small genetic differences like so much flotsam in an ocean current. Todays studies give only a snapshot of where that genetic baggage came to rest without revealing the tides that brought it there. Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a model for pinpointing where mutations first appeared, providing a new way to trace the migratory path of our earliest ancestors.
The study was led by Luca Cavalli-Sforza, PhD, emeritus professor of genetics, who has spent most of his career tracking the evolution of modern humans. Much of his current work involves following mutations in the Y chromosome, which is passed exclusively from father to son, as humans migrated from Africa and spread to the rest of the world during the past 50,000 years.
These mutations, most of which cause no physical change, tend to appear at a constant rate, providing a genetic timer. For example, if a population has 10 mutations after 50,000 years of evolution from the common ancestor in Africa, then the fifth mutation probably arose 25,000 years ago. But where was the population located at that time? Until now genetics hasnt had an answer.
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