September 28, 2004

Ethiopian and Yemeni mtDNA

A new paper presents a very detailed view of mtDNA variation in Ethiopia and Yemen. In agreement with previous genetic work and traditional physical anthropology, which saw Ethiopians as representatives of a subequatorial "Ethiopid" race combining Caucasoid and Negroid characters, this new research affirms the "intermediate" composition of the Ethiopian gene pool:

Though present-day Ethiopia is a land of great ethnic diversity, the majority of Ethiopians speak different Semitic, Cushitic, and Omotic languages that belong to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic phylum. Maternal lineages of Semitic- (Amharic, Tigrinya, and Gurage) and Cushitic- (Oromo and Afar) speaking populations studied here reveal that their mtDNA pool is a nearly equal composite of sub-Saharan and western Eurasian lineages. This finding, consistent with classic genetic-marker studies (Cavalli-Sforza 1997) and previous mtDNA results, is also in agreement with a similarly high proportion of western Asian Y chromosomes in Ethiopians (Passarino et al. 1998; Semino et al. 2002), which supports the view (Richards et al. 2003) that the observed admixture between sub-Saharan African and, most probably, western Asian ancestors of the Ethiopian populations applies to their gene pool in general.

Am. J. Hum. Genet., 75:000, 2004

Ethiopian Mitochondrial DNA Heritage: Tracking Gene Flow across and around the Gate of Tears

Toomas Kivisild et al.

Approximately 10 miles separate the Horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula at Bab-el-Mandeb (the Gate of Tears). Both historic and archaeological evidence indicate tight cultural connections, over millennia, between these two regions. High-resolution phylogenetic analysis of 270 Ethiopian and 115 Yemeni mitochondrial DNAs was performed in a worldwide context, to explore gene flow across the Red and Arabian Seas. Nine distinct subclades, including three newly defined ones, were found to characterize entirely the variation of Ethiopian and Yemeni L3 lineages. Both Ethiopians and Yemenis contain an almost-equal proportion of Eurasian-specific M and N and African-specific lineages and therefore cluster together in a multidimensional scaling plot between Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African populations. Phylogeographic identification of potential founder haplotypes revealed that approximately one-half of haplogroup L0–L5 lineages in Yemenis have close or matching counterparts in southeastern Africans, compared with a minor share in Ethiopians. Newly defined clade L6, the most frequent haplogroup in Yemenis, showed no close matches among 3,000 African samples. These results highlight the complexity of Ethiopian and Yemeni genetic heritage and are consistent with the introduction of maternal lineages into the South Arabian gene pool from different source populations of East Africa. A high proportion of Ethiopian lineages, significantly more abundant in the northeast of that country, trace their western Eurasian origin in haplogroup N through assorted gene flow at different times and involving different source populations.


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