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Ancestors Of African Pygmies And Neighboring Farmers Separated Around 60,000 
Years Ago

ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2009) — All African Pygmies, inhabiting a large 
territory extending west-to-east along Central Africa, descend from a unique 
population who lived around 20,000 years ago, according to an international 
study led by researchers at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The research 
concludes that the ancestors of present-day African Pygmies and farmers 
separated ~60,000 years ago.

Pygmies are characterized by a forest-dwelling hunter-gathering lifestyle and 
distinctive cultural practices and physical traits (e.g., low stature). Two 
groups of Pygmy populations live in the African rainforests: the "Western 
Pygmies" and the "Eastern Pygmies". The common origins of the two groups of 
Pygmies, separated by thousands of kilometers, have been long debated, and 
their relationships with neighboring farmers remained obscure.

The researchers, led by Lluis Quintana-Murci, studied the genetic profile of 
twelve populations of Pygmies and neighboring farmers dispersed over the 
African continent, using sequence data from non-coding regions of their 
genomes. Using simulation-based procedures, they determined that the ancestors 
of Pygmy hunter-gatherers and farming populations started to diverge ~60,000 
years ago, coinciding with a period of important human migration both within 
and outside Africa. Much later, ~20,000 years ago, Western and Eastern Pygmies 
separated, concurrently with a period of climate change leading to large 
retreats of the equatorial rainforest into refugia.

The common origin of all Pygmies unmasked in this study led Etienne Patin, one 
of the leading authors, to conclude that "they have probably inherited their 
distinctive shared physical traits, such as low height, from a common ancestor, 
rather than by convergent adaptation to the rainforest". However, complete 
genome-wide profiles of these populations are now needed, both to characterize 
more precisely their demographic history and to identify genes involved in the 
adaptation of these populations with different lifestyles to their specific 
ecological habitats.

Journal reference:

   1. Patin et al. Inferring the Demographic History of African Farmers and 
Pygmy Hunter-Gatherers Using a Multilocus Resequencing Data Set. PLoS Genetics, 
2009; 5 (4): e1000448 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000448

Adapted from materials provided by Public Library of Science, via EurekAlert!, 
a service of AAAS.
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April 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ 

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