An international team of scientists Thursday unveiled what they called the biggest study yet of the genetic wealth of African people, shedding light on human settlement, migration and health.
"This is the largest study to date of African genetic diversity in the nuclear genome," said Sarah Tishkoff, a University of Pennsylvania geneticist, of the research published in the May 1 issue of Science Express.
"This long term collaboration, involving an international team of researchers and years of research expeditions to collect samples from populations living in remote regions of Africa, has resulted in novel insights about levels and patterns of genetic diversity in Africa, a region that has been under-represented in human genetic studies," Tishkoff said.
She explained that researchers sought to "benefit Africans, both by learning more about their population history and by setting the stage for future genetic studies, including studies of genetic and environmental risk factors for disease and drug response."
Over a decade, researchers looked four million genotypes from 121 African populations, four African American populations and 60 non-African populations for patterns of variation at 1327 DNA markers.
"The study traced the genetic structure of Africans to 14 ancestral population clusters that correlated with ethnicity and shared cultural and/or linguistic properties," researchers said in a statement.
"The research team demonstrated that there is more genetic diversity in Africa than anywhere else on earth," they stressed, noting that mankind's ancestral home likely was inside modern-day South Africa near the border with Namibia.
The study included researchers from the United States, France, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa and Tanzania.