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Study Traces Chinese Origins to Africa
Article taken from: San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, September 29, 1998
Genetic findings reveal a complex migration pattern.
Most of modern China's population - one-fifth of all people living
today - owes its genetic origins to Africa, an international scientific
team reports in research that undercuts the claim that modern humans may
have originated independently in China.
In the search for human origins, the new genetic findings
dramatically illustrate the intricate weave of prehistoric migrations
and human evolution, the scientists said.
They concluded, "Genetic evidence does not support an independent
origin of Homo sapiens in China."
According to the "Out of Africa" theory, modern humans evolved in
Africa and spread across the world about 100,000 years ago. There may
have been an earlier migration of human ancestors - but if so, they died
The researchers also demonstrated that the peoples of northern and
southern China cluster into distinct regional genetic populations that
share inherited characteristics. Those groups, in turn, can be divided
into even smaller, separate genetic groups. Yet, overall, they all are
descendants of a single population group that migrated into China from
the south eons before humans learned to forge metal tools or use a
written alphabet, the new research suggests.
Published in today's edition of the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, the study is the product of the Chinese Human
Genome Diversity Project, a consortium of seven major research groups in
the People's Republic of China and the Human Genetics Center at the
University of Texas, Houston.
Li Jin, the senior scientist guiding the genetic analysis, said the
study is based on analysis of the gene patterns from 43 different ethnic
groups in China and Asia. He said the technique shed light on the
ancestry of people in East Asia, who, like everyone, carry in every cell
of their bodies genetic hints to their evolutionary history and the
journeys of their forebears.
Migration clues are carried in genetic patterns, called
microsatellites, that change rapidly over time. By analyzing these
changes and linking them to earlier genetic patterns, researchers are
able to plot the migration of ancient humans.
The scientists looked at 30 such microsatellite markers across the
population groups in China and then compared the pattern to 11 other
population groups around the world.
Based on the research, Jin said it appears that modern humans first
moved from central Asia, follwing the Indian Ocean coastline across
India, to Southeast Asia. Later, they moved to southern China.
Descendants of these original Chinese then migrated north and northwest,
populating northern China, Siberia and eventually the Americas.
Until now, other researchers said, few studies of human population
genetics have taken such a comprehensive look at China. Stanford
University geneticist Luca calli-Sforza, an authority on human genetic
variation, said, "It is very encouraging to see a cooperative effort of
this magnitude beginning to take place in this most important part of
the world, and (they) are to be warmly congratulated for it."
Jin said the findings may disappoint some of his fellow geneticists
in China, where recent fossil discoveries that attest to the great
antiquity of human settlement in East Asia have been a source of
"The genetics community in China is in favor of the idea of
independent origin of the people of China," said Jin at the Human
Genetics Center in Houston. "But this is another confirmation of African
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