May 31, 2006

A model of human dispersals

The American Journal of Human Genetics, volume 79 (2006)

A Geographically Explicit Genetic Model of Worldwide Human-Settlement History

Hua Liu et al.

Currently available genetic and archaeological evidence is generally interpreted as supportive of a recent single origin of modern humans in East Africa. However, this is where the near consensus on human settlement history ends, and considerable uncertainty clouds any more detailed aspect of human colonization history. Here, we present a dynamic genetic model of human settlement history coupled with explicit geographical distances from East Africa, the likely origin of modern humans. We search for the best-supported parameter space by fitting our analytical prediction to genetic data that are based on 52 human populations analyzed at 783 autosomal microsatellite markers. This framework allows us to jointly estimate the key parameters of the expansion of modern humans. Our best estimates suggest an initial expansion of modern humans ~56,000 years ago from a small founding population of ~1,000 effective individuals. Our model further points to high growth rates in newly colonized habitats. The general fit of the model with the data is excellent. This suggests that coupling analytical genetic models with explicit demography and geography provides a powerful tool for making inferences on human-settlement history.


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