Can DNA evidence fill gaps in our history books?

Sep 21, 2015

Busby et al./Current Biology 2015

By Cell Press

If you go back far enough, all people share a common ancestry. But some populations are more closely related than others based on events in the past that brought them together. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on September 17 have shown that it’s possible to use DNA evidence as a means to reconstruct and date those significant past events. The findings suggest that evidence in our genomes can help to recover lost bits of history.

“We now have the statistical machinery to uncover which historical events have produced the mosaic genomes of people in Europe today,” says George Busby of the University of Oxford. “The successful reconstruction of the genetic history of a region of the world that has been well investigated both archaeologically and historically suggests that these approaches have the potential to be applied to areas where history has not been so well recorded and where genetics might be the only way of recovering history.”

Busby and his colleagues applied a new method they’ve developed to compare single genetic variants among populations, taking into account the relationships among those markers based on their physical proximity along the chromosomes. That information can be used to infer subtle relationships among populations, including those that are genetically very similar, as well as the history of a continent.

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