Scientists looking at the DNA make up of Southern Africa have come to the conclusion that it is the most genetically diverse place on earth.
Scientists who decoded the DNA of some southern Africans have found that any two bushmen in their study who spoke different languages were more different genetically than a European compared to an Asian.
Stephan Schuster, of Pennsylvania State University, said that if the world wanted to understand human diversity, we need to go to South Africa.
Writing in the journal Nature, he said that the study also found 1.3 million tiny variations that hadn’t been observed before in any human DNA. That should help scientists sort out whether particular genes promote certain diseases or influence a person’s response to medications. Findings like that could have payoffs both within Africa and elsewhere.
Modern humans evolved on that continent about 200,000 years ago and have lived there longer than anyplace else. So that’s where they’ve had the most time to develop genetic differences. The varied environments of Africa have also encouraged genetic differences.
The researchers decoded genomes of a Kalahari Desert bushman and of Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace laureate and former head of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Tutu was included to represent a Bantu ancestry, in contrast to bushmen. Bantu people have a tradition of farming, while bushmen are longtime hunter-gatherers who represent the oldest known lineage of modern humans.
However when they looked under the bonnet of Tutu’s genome, they found surprising evidence that his mother’s ancestry includes at least one bushman woman. It’s not clear how many generations back that woman lived.
Tutu told Associated Press that discovering he is related to “these wise people” made him feel “very privileged and blessed.”