Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation Assists International Scientific Team in Establishing Italian Peninsula as a Significant Source of the People Who Recolonized Post-Ice Age Europe
SALT LAKE CITY--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Genetic researchers from nine European and Middle Eastern educational organizations, led by the University of Pavia, Italy, and assisted by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) of Salt Lake City, Utah, will publish a study today showing for the first time the Italian peninsula was a significant source for the humans who recolonized the northern and central European continent beginning about 15,000 years ago, after the peak of the last Ice Age, when ice sheets, permafrost and alpine glaciers receded and the climate again became habitable.
“For years now, we have collaborated with world-renowned genetic researchers who are piecing together the puzzle of humankind’s early years and showing how closely related we all are to each other.”
The researchers’ analysis of a portion of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 35,000 subjects, which is inherited maternally, will be published this month in the prestigious American Journal of Human Genetics. The scientists employed SMGF’s genetic genealogy database — the world’s most extensive collection of its kind — analyzed a number of SMGF-provided DNA samples, and used other resources in this first study of the rare U5b3 genetic group found only in Europeans.
“SMGF is committed to scientific exploration of the human family’s deep roots,” said Dr. Scott Woodward, executive director of the non-profit scientific organization. “For years now, we have collaborated with world-renowned genetic researchers who are piecing together the puzzle of humankind’s early years and showing how closely related we all are to each other.” Ugo Perego, a geneticist and SMGF director of operations, assisted in writing the study’s final manuscript.
Researchers used molecular genetics to help answer lingering questions about human prehistory in Europe. Scientists had already established that fully modern humans entered Europe about 45,000 years ago during an interglacial period, leaving archaeological evidence of their Upper Paleolithic hunting-gathering lifestyle. But about 20,000 years later, the Earth began a dramatic cooling, culminating in the Last Glacial Maximum. Here, the archaeological record in northern and central Europe disappears for ten thousand years.
Where did surviving human groups go? Earlier scientific evidence shows Italy was a refuge for plants and animals during this harshest era of the Ice Age; the peninsula did not have ice sheets or permafrost. But until this study of the U5b3 genetic group, no human genetic contribution from Paleolithic Italy to modern Europeans had been detected.
Using SMGF’s mtDNA database and other resources, geneticists can screen the frequency and distribution of thousands of genetic profiles and genealogical data, and carefully select the most informative DNA samples to be analyzed at the highest level of molecular resolution. They can then map the deep history and migration of lineages like U5b3 because the mtDNA found in today’s population originated in ancient ancestors and survived in successive generations essentially intact, along with a built-in molecular clock.
With the addition of Italy, scientists now know of four glacial refuge zones for Paleolithic humans: Italy, Iberia (Franco-Cantabria), the Balkans, and Ukraine. Most of the mtDNA lineages observed in people of European descent today are related to Ice Age survivors from these refuges of southern Europe.
As the climate warmed beginning about 15,000 years ago, humans, animals and plants again expanded their range into central and northern Europe. Restricted by the Alps, groups from Italy migrated along the Mediterranean. Researchers in this study also discovered two smaller sister lineages linking people on the island of Sardinia with those in the Provence area of France 7-9,000 years ago, a close connection that reflects the intensive obsidian trade in the area at that time.
The study, “Mitochondrial Haplogroup U5b3: A Distant Echo of the Epipaleolithic in Italy and the Legacy of the Early Sardinians,” will be published online June 4 and printed in the June 12 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics. Dr. Maria Pala and Professor Antonio Torroni of the University of Pavia, Italy, and Dr. Alessandro Achilli of the University of Perugia, Italy, are the leading researchers. Scientists from University of Sassari, Italy; University of Tartu and Estonian Biocentre, Estonia; Innsbruck Medical University, Austria; University of Baghdad, Iraq; University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa, Israel; and University of Hamburg, Germany, also contributed.
About Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation
The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF; www.smgf.org) is a non-profit research organization that has created the world's largest repository of correlated genetic and genealogical information. The SMGF database currently contains information about more than seven million ancestors through linked DNA samples and pedigree charts from more than 170 countries, or approximately 90 percent of the nations of the world. The foundation's purpose is to foster a greater sense of identity, connection and belonging among all people by showing how closely we are connected as members of a single human family. For more information about the foundation's free, publicly available database, visit www.smgf.org.