November 05, 2010

Y chromosomes and mtDNA of Tuareg nomads from the African Sahel

European Journal of Human Genetics 18, 915-923 (August 2010) | doi:10.1038/ejhg.2010.21

Linking the sub-Saharan and West Eurasian gene pools: maternal and paternal heritage of the Tuareg nomads from the African Sahel

The Tuareg presently live in the Sahara and the Sahel. Their ancestors are commonly believed to be the Garamantes of the Libyan Fezzan, ever since it was suggested by authors of antiquity. Biological evidence, based on classical genetic markers, however, indicates kinship with the Beja of Eastern Sudan. Our study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and Y chromosome SNPs of three different southern Tuareg groups from Mali, Burkina Faso and the Republic of Niger reveals a West Eurasian-North African composition of their gene pool. The data show that certain genetic lineages could not have been introduced into this population earlier than ~9000 years ago whereas local expansions establish a minimal date at around 3000 years ago. Some of the mtDNA haplogroups observed in the Tuareg population were involved in the post-Last Glacial Maximum human expansion from Iberian refugia towards both Europe and North Africa. Interestingly, no Near Eastern mtDNA lineages connected with the Neolithic expansion have been observed in our population sample. On the other hand, the Y chromosome SNPs data show that the paternal lineages can very probably be traced to the Near Eastern Neolithic demic expansion towards North Africa, a period that is otherwise concordant with the above-mentioned mtDNA expansion. The time frame for the migration of the Tuareg towards the African Sahel belt overlaps that of early Holocene climatic changes across the Sahara (from the optimal greening ~10 000 YBP to the extant aridity beginning at ~6000 YBP) and the migrations of other African nomadic peoples in the area.


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