THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Tuesday, August 6, 2002

THE blood ties between Europeans and the Middle East are much stronger than previously thought, says a study of man’s genetic family tree.

Up to half the genes of indigenous Europeans may have come from immigrants who brought farming to the continent 6,000-10,000 years ago say researchers.
Scientists at University College London analysed rare genetic markers on the Y chromosomes of 1,000 modern Europeans. They show common ancestry among different populations.

Dr Lounes Chikhi, a population geneticist, and colleagues estimated that ancient Middle Eastern immigrant farmers contributed about 50 per cent of the analysed genes, ranging form 15-30 per cent for north-western Europeans, to 85-100 per cent for those Albania, Macedonia and Greece.

The findings could resolve a long debate over the origins of indigenous Europeans and the spreading of farming.

Agriculture is thought to have begun in the Near East at the end of the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. Farming gradually spread westwards across Europe over the next millennia, reaching the British Isles about 6,000 years ago.

Previous studies of the spread of Middle Eastern genes produced contradictory results. Some suggested a significant genetic heritage from the Near East, others that Middle Eastern populations played a minor role in the making of Europeans.

Dr Chikhi, who reports the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said it had not been clear before whether people colonised areas or whether the neighbouring hunter-gathers integrated farming techniques through cultural contacts.

“Our findings indicate that culture transmission of farming is extremely unlikely. There was a significant movement of people.”

The University College team used a new statistical technique to study rare Y chromosome mutations – unique event polymorphisms – which are not thought to have occurred more than once in recent human history. Y chromosomes pass only from fathers to sons.