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Ancestry of Europeans traced to Middle East

John von Radowitz
Tuesday 06 August 2002 00:00 BST

Europeans are largely descended from immigrant farmers from the Middle East, research suggested yesterday.

Scientists analysed genetic data from a wide range of Europeans and estimated the share of Middle Eastern genes. They looked for rare Y chromosome gene mutations called unique event polymorphisms (UEPs) which are not thought to have occurred more than once in recent human history. The presence of UEPs in different populations is likely to indicate common ancestry rather than recurrent changes in gene structure.

Lounes Chikhi, from University College London, and colleagues estimated that Middle Eastern farmers contributed roughly 50 per cent of the analysed genes to modern European populations. Contributions ranged from 15 per cent to 30 per cent in France and Germany to 85 per cent to 100 per cent in south-eastern European countries such as Albania, Macedonia and Greece.

Agriculture is widely accepted to have started in the Near East before farming was introduced across Europe about 10,000 years ago, replacing the hunter-gatherer existence. But experts disagree on whether ancient farmers migrated from the Middle East to Europe or simply spread ideas and practices.

The findings, reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate modern Europeans have far more Middle Eastern ancestry than was thought. The scientists wrote: "Our results ... suggest that large movements of people accompanied the introduction of farming to Europe. Of course, farming practice may have spread concurrently by imitation and cultural transmission. Different processes are likely to have been important at different localities and at different times."

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