Genetic Analysis of Indigenous Populations Reflects Ecogeographic Influences of the Kalahari Desert Region in Southern Africa

Geography and ecology are key factors that have influenced the genetic makeup of human groups in southern Africa, according to new research published online on September 1, 2016 in the journal GENETICS, a publication of the Genetics Society of America. The open-access article is titled “Fine-Scale Human Population Structure in Southern Africa Reflects Ecogeographic Boundaries.” By investigating the ancestries of twenty-two KhoeSan groups, including new samples from the Nama and the ≠Khomani, researchers conclude that the genetic clustering of southern African populations is closely tied to the ecogeography of the Kalahari Desert region. The name KhoeSan refers to several indigenous populations in southern Africa; KhoeSan people speak "click" languages and include both hunter-gatherer groups and pastoralists. They are genetically distinct and strikingly isolated from all other African populations, suggesting they were among the first groups to diverge from the ancestors of all humans. Much scientific interest has focused on the KhoeSan as researchers try to reconstruct this early divergence; however, little genetic material was collected until the past decade. Brenna Henn, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University in New York, has been studying southern African population genetics for over a decade. She notes that there is a tendency to lump all indigenous southern Africans into a single group - often called "Bushmen" - but in fact, the KhoeSan includes many distinct populations. She and her team set out to explore genetic diversity in the area and to better understand the differences between these KhoeSan groups."For the last twenty years or so, there has b een a lot of interest in understanding how genetic patterns are determined by geography in addition to language," says Dr.Henn.
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