Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Slavery


Egypt, located on the isthmus of Africa, is an ideal region to study historical population dynamics due to its geographic location and documented interactions with ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Particularly, in the first millennium BCE Egypt endured foreign domination leading to growing numbers of foreigners living within its borders possibly contributing genetically to the local population. Here we present 90 mitochondrial genomes as well as genome-wide data sets from three individuals obtained from Egyptian mummies. The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period. Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more ancestry with Near Easterners than present-day Egyptians, who received additional sub-Saharan admixture in more recent times. This analysis establishes ancient Egyptian mummies as a genetic source to study ancient human history and offers the perspective of deciphering Egypt’s past at a genome-wide level.

Concepts: Africa, North Africa, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Slavery, Ancient history, Mummy, Nubia


The Caribbean basin is home to some of the most complex interactions in recent history among previously diverged human populations. Here, we investigate the population genetic history of this region by characterizing patterns of genome-wide variation among 330 individuals from three of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola), two mainland (Honduras, Colombia), and three Native South American (Yukpa, Bari, and Warao) populations. We combine these data with a unique database of genomic variation in over 3,000 individuals from diverse European, African, and Native American populations. We use local ancestry inference and tract length distributions to test different demographic scenarios for the pre- and post-colonial history of the region. We develop a novel ancestry-specific PCA (ASPCA) method to reconstruct the sub-continental origin of Native American, European, and African haplotypes from admixed genomes. We find that the most likely source of the indigenous ancestry in Caribbean islanders is a Native South American component shared among inland Amazonian tribes, Central America, and the Yucatan peninsula, suggesting extensive gene flow across the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. We find evidence of two pulses of African migration. The first pulse-which today is reflected by shorter, older ancestry tracts-consists of a genetic component more similar to coastal West African regions involved in early stages of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The second pulse-reflected by longer, younger tracts-is more similar to present-day West-Central African populations, supporting historical records of later transatlantic deportation. Surprisingly, we also identify a Latino-specific European component that has significantly diverged from its parental Iberian source populations, presumably as a result of small European founder population size. We demonstrate that the ancestral components in admixed genomes can be traced back to distinct sub-continental source populations with far greater resolution than previously thought, even when limited pre-Columbian Caribbean haplotypes have survived.

Concepts: Africa, United States, North America, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Slavery, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Atlantic slave trade


Schistosoma mansoni is a parasitic fluke that infects millions of people in the developing world. This study presents the first application of population genomics to S. mansoni based on high-coverage resequencing data from 10 global isolates and an isolate of the closely-related Schistosoma rodhaini, which infects rodents. Using population genetic tests, we document genes under directional and balancing selection in S. mansoni that may facilitate adaptation to the human host. Coalescence modeling reveals the speciation of S. mansoni and S. rodhaini as 107.5-147.6KYA, a period which overlaps with the earliest archaeological evidence for fishing in Africa. Our results indicate that S. mansoni originated in East Africa and experienced a decline in effective population size 20-90KYA, before dispersing across the continent during the Holocene. In addition, we find strong evidence that S. mansoni migrated to the New World with the 16-19(th) Century Atlantic Slave Trade.

Concepts: Genetics, Natural selection, Africa, Europe, Population genetics, Genetic drift, Slavery, Atlantic slave trade


Modern genetic data combined with appropriate statistical methods have the potential to contribute substantially to our understanding of human history. We have developed an approach that exploits the genomic structure of admixed populations to date and characterize historical mixture events at fine scales. We used this to produce an atlas of worldwide human admixture history, constructed by using genetic data alone and encompassing over 100 events occurring over the past 4000 years. We identified events whose dates and participants suggest they describe genetic impacts of the Mongol empire, Arab slave trade, Bantu expansion, first millennium CE migrations in Eastern Europe, and European colonialism, as well as unrecorded events, revealing admixture to be an almost universal force shaping human populations.

Concepts: Africa, Portugal, Europe, Spain, History, Colonialism, Slavery, British Empire


Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), thought to be rare in Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa, has been reported in recent studies. Developing cost-effective screening is crucial for detecting retinal changes amenable to treatment. This study describes the use of an iPhone combined with a 20-D lens in screening for ROP in Lagos, Nigeria.

Concepts: AIDS, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, West Africa, Mobile phone, Southern Africa, Slavery


Forensic DNA methodologies have potential applications in the investigation of human trafficking cases. DNA and relationship testing may be useful for confirmation of biological relationship claims in immigration, identification of trafficked individuals who are missing persons, and family reunification of displaced individuals after mass disasters and conflicts. As these applications rely on the collection of DNA from non-criminals and potentially vulnerable individuals, questions arise as to how to address the ethical challenges of collection, security, and privacy of collected samples and DNA profiles. We administered a survey targeted to victims' advocates to gain preliminary understanding of perspectives regarding human trafficking definitions, DNA and sex workers, and perceived trust of authorities potentially involved in DNA collection. We asked respondents to consider the use of DNA for investigating adoption fraud, sex trafficking, and post-conflict child soldier cases. We found some key differences in perspectives on defining what qualifies as “trafficking.” When we varied terminology between “sex worker” and “sex trafficking victim” we detected differences in perception on which authorities can be trusted. Respondents were supportive of the hypothetical models proposed to collect DNA. Most were favorable of DNA specimens being controlled by an authority outside of law enforcement. Participants voiced concerns focused on privacy, misuse of DNA samples and data, unintentional harms, data security, and infrastructure. These preliminary data indicate that while there is perceived value in programs to use DNA for investigating cases of human trafficking, these programs may need to consider levels of trust in authorities as their logistics are developed and implemented.

Concepts: Biology, Prostitution, Slavery, Human trafficking, Sex industry, DNA profiling, Smuggling, Trafficking


I was volunteering at a refugee centre when a woman told me she was the happiest she could remember being. She said she had previously been a slave, and no matter how bad I thought her situation was now, it was always better than her past.

Concepts: Ethiopia, Woman, Slavery, Slavery in the United States, Atlantic slave trade, Right of asylum, Leo White, Slavery in modern Africa


Geologically, Panama belongs to the Central American land-bridge between North and South America crossed by Homo sapiens >14 ka ago. Archaeologically, it belongs to a wider Isthmo-Colombian Area. Today, seven indigenous ethnic groups account for 12.3% of Panama’s population. Five speak Chibchan languages and are characterized by low genetic diversity and a high level of differentiation. In addition, no evidence of differential structuring between maternally and paternally inherited genes has been reported in isthmian Chibchan cultural groups. Recent data have shown that 83% of the Panamanian general population harbour mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) of Native American ancestry. Considering differential male/female mortality at European contact and multiple degrees of geographical and genetic isolation over the subsequent five centuries, the Y-chromosome Native American component is expected to vary across different geographic regions and communities in Panama. To address this issue, we investigated Y-chromosome variation in 408 modern males from the nine provinces of Panama and one indigenous territory (the comarca of Kuna Yala). In contrast to mtDNA data, the Y-chromosome Native American component (haplogroup Q) exceeds 50% only in three populations facing the Caribbean Sea: the comarca of Kuna Yala and Bocas del Toro province where Chibchan languages are spoken by the majority, and the province of Colón where many Kuna and people of mixed indigenous-African-and-European descent live. Elsewhere the Old World component is dominant and mostly represented by western Eurasian haplogroups, which signal the strong male genetic impact of invaders. Sub-Saharan African input accounts for 5.9% of male haplotypes. This reflects the consequences of the colonial Atlantic slave trade and more recent influxes of West Indians of African heritage. Overall, our findings reveal a local evolution of the male Native American ancestral gene pool, and a strong but geographically differentiated unidirectional sex bias in the formation of local modern Panamanian populations.

Concepts: Africa, Caribbean Sea, North America, Caribbean, Slavery, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Panama, Bocas del Toro Province


Long-term natural history cohorts of HIV-1 in the absence of treatment provide the best measure of virulence by different viral subtypes.

Concepts: HIV, Infectious disease, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Sahara, Southern Africa, Slavery


Colonial medical reports claimed that tuberculosis (TB) was largely unknown in Africa prior to European contact, providing a “virgin soil” for spread of TB in highly susceptible populations previously unexposed to the disease [1, 2]. This is in direct contrast to recent phylogenetic models which support an African origin for TB [3-6]. To address this apparent contradiction, we performed a broad genomic sampling of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Ethiopia. All members of the M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC) arose from clonal expansion of a single common ancestor [7] with a proposed origin in East Africa [3, 4, 8]. Consistent with this proposal, MTBC lineage 7 is almost exclusively found in that region [9-11]. Although a detailed medical history of Ethiopia supports the view that TB was rare until the 20(th) century [12], over the last century Ethiopia has become a high-burden TB country [13]. Our results provide further support for an African origin for TB, with some genotypes already present on the continent well before European contact. Phylogenetic analyses reveal a pattern of serial introductions of multiple genotypes into Ethiopia in association with human migration and trade. In place of a “virgin soil” fostering the spread of TB in a previously naive population, we propose that increased TB mortality in Africa was driven by the introduction of European strains of M. tuberculosis alongside expansion of selected indigenous strains having biological characteristics that carry a fitness benefit in the urbanized settings of post-colonial Africa.

Concepts: Biology, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Tuberculosis, Human migration, Madagascar, Southern Africa, Slavery