AncientPages.com - The debate how, and when the first Native Americans populated the Americas continues.
An analysis of DNA sequences suggests the Native American founding population that migrated from Siberia consisted of approximately 250 people who came from Siberia about 15,000 years ago.
The researchers examined nine noncoding regions of the DNA samples collected from populations that trace the path of the migration. This included samples of individuals from China, 10 Siberian groups and from 10 Native American populations scattered across Central and South America representing several different tribal affiliations.
The study was published in the journal Genetics and Molecular Biology, includes Michael Crawford, KU professor of anthropology, and the researchers' results corroborate findings of previous studies that were based on smaller datasets.
"Going from a few hundred founders to around 40 million inhabitants of the Americas, who eventually live under different environmental conditions to which they adapt, is pretty exciting stuff," said Crawford, also head of KU's Laboratory of Biological Anthropology. "It's about understanding how evolution operates in terms of genetic diversity."
"It is difficult to go back in time to follow the populations, but we can characterize contemporary genetic diversity and estimate the mutation rates that have occurred in different regions," Crawford said in a statement.
Study co-lead researcher Nelson Fagundes, a professor in the Department of Genetics at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, told Live Science that “it's important to note that the 250 number is just an estimate. One must keep in mind that it is very hard (not to say impossible) to estimate how many real individuals correspond to this figure of about 250 effective individuals.”
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This new genetic study helped scientists to determine the breeding size or founding populations by isolation-with-migration computer simulation models based on 100 million generations. Each analysis revealed founding groups were between about 229 to 300 people. This led the group to estimate the parameter for the original founding population of Native Americans of about 250 people.
According to the new genetic study, the first Native American population was very small.
Recognizing the size of this genetic bottleneck during the populating of the Americas is important for determining the extent of genetic markers needed to characterize Native American populations in genome-wide studies and to evaluate the adaptive potential of genetic variants in this population, according to the research group.
Crawford said the genetic data helps paint a fascinating picture of how the ancient migration unfolded.
"It wasn't a matter of a group that announced, 'Let's go follow this one,'" he said. "It was a matter of population fission among hunters and gatherers.
There would be about 50 people, and when the population's fertility gets higher and higher, the population splits into the next so-called 'county' and then the next. After 15,000 years, you can put them all the way down in Argentina."