By studying mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, researchers have found that most of the actual European inhabitants seem to have come from re-expansion of hunter-gatherers populations, which have migrated from Iberia, Europe after the end of the last Ice Age reports an article in the January issue of Genome Research.
In the study of human evolution through history and pre-history there are now two indispensable sets of genes to follow: Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genes. Both sets are transmitted uniparentally from one generation to the next - father to son in the case of the Y-chromosome and mother to child in the case of mtDNA - which makes them especially useful to trace lineages.
Mitochondrial DNA is a circular structure composed of 13 genes and exists, as the name indicates, in mitochondria, which are organelles responsible for energy production in the cell. Mitochondrial DNA sequences can be divided in different groups – haplogroups – according to genetic variations (or polymorphisms). Each haplogroup can then be divided into sub-clades (or sub-groups) according to further polymorphisms. Because it is possible to calculate the changes occurring in mtDNA in a certain period of time (the rate of change is constant and known) it is possible to follow in time the different sub-clades and learn when they did get separated, and consequently their individual migrations/geographical separations.
Catarina Amorim | alfa
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