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Human adolescence spent in South Asia

Media release
5 February 2008

Human adolescence spent in South Asia

Over half of the world’s population lived in Southern Asia 50,000 years ago, on their way from Africa to populate the rest of the world, new research has suggested.

Researchers from The University of Auckland have used DNA to track the movement of humans from their initial birthplace of Africa. The research has shown that over half the population lived in Southern Asia between 50,000 and 25,000 years ago. By comparison, around a third of the world population lives there today.

By tracking mitochondrial DNA, inherited from the mother only, back through the ages to common ancestors, the scientists have been able to plot past population size in eight major geographic regions; Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia, North and Central Asia, Australia, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, New Guinea, and the Americas. The research showed a slow increase in population size in Africa, with a large jump in population size in Southern Asia around 50,000 years ago. Sudden increases, of a smaller scale, were also seen in Australia around 50,000 years ago, Europe 45,000 and 15,000 years ago, and the Americas 20,000 years ago.

“By using genetic techniques, we can track populations in size and geography over long periods of time,” says Dr Alexei Drummond of the Department of Computer Science. “Human mitochondrial DNA patterns reveal that we spent our adolescence, around 50,000 years ago, in Southern Asia, before spreading to other areas of the globe. This means if we want to better understand this crucial period of human history then research should focus on this area more than it currently does.”

The research was conducted by University of Auckland researchers Dr Alexei Drummond of the Department of Computer Science and Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology, in collaboration with former PhD student Quentin Atkinson, now based at the University of Oxford. The research is published in the latest Molecular Biology and Evolution journal.


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