May 09, 2001 From: New Scientist

Fewer than 50 people founded Europe

Fewer than 50 people founded the entire population of Europe, according to a new and accurate way to read demographic history from the genome.

Scientists previously believed that the 500 million people that live in Europe today are descendants of about 10,000 people who left Africa around 100,000 years ago.

But scientists from the Whitehead Institute at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts have found so much genetic evidence of inbreeding, they believe all Europeans probably descended from fewer than about 50 people who interbred together over about 30 generations. This select group may have left Africa about 60,000 years ago.

Their data comes from maps of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are the single letter differences in DNA which can exist between people.

The discovery is good news for medicine because the unexpectedly low degree of genetic variation will make it far easier to isolate the genes that underpin common diseases. "I'm very, very excited about this," said Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute. More...

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