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September 16, 2016

The Egyptian in all of us: First modern humans spread out of Africa into Europe and Asia from the Sinai Peninsula

Richard Gray for mailonline

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-Geneticists studied the genomes of 225 people from Egypt and Ethiopia

-Scientists have proposed two routes for how Homo sapiens spread out of Africa between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago - through Egypt or Ethiopia

-The researchers found people living in Europe and Asia are more closely related to those living in Egypt than they are to those from Ethiopia

-They say the findings finally answer how humans spread out of Africa

The first modern humans to arrive in Europe and Asia migrated north out of Egypt around 55,000 years ago, according to new genetic research.

The study has answered a long standing question about the route early Homo sapiens took when spreading from the African continent.

It shows most Europeans and Asians living today are more closely related genetically to people living in Egypt than in Ethiopia.

This suggests Egypt was the last stop for people migrating out of Africa 55,000 years ago rather than taking a more southerly route through Ethiopia.

Some scientists believed that humans may have travelled from Ethiopia across the Bab el Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula.

However, the new research suggests a northern route from Egypt, through the Sinai Peninsula and then out into Asia and Europe was the most likely route.

The findings also support evidence that these first humans to leave Africa came into contact with Neanderthals in the Levant at the time.

Dr Toomas Kivisild, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge who helped lead the study, said: 'While our results do not address controversies about the timing and possible complexities of the expansion out of Africa, they paint a clear picture in which the main migration out of Africa followed a Northern, rather than a Southern route.'

His colleague Dr Luca Pagani, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge, added: 'The most exciting consequence of our results is that we draw back the veil that has been hiding an episode in the history of all Eurasians, improving the understanding of billions of people of their evolutionary history.

'It is exciting that, in our genomic era, the DNA of living people allows us to explore and understand events as ancient as 60,000 years ago.'

To conduct their research, which is published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers analysed the entire genomes of 225 people from modern Egypt and Ethiopia.

Previous studies have shown that the modern populations in these countries have genes that have flowed in from West Asia, so the researchers masked these modern Eurasian contribution to the genomes.

They found that the remaining genomic regions from the Egyptian samples were more similar populations who lived outside Africa than the remaining regions in the Ethiopian samples.

The researchers also estimated that people European and Asian populations appear to have split from the Egyptian genomes around 55,000 years ago. They last shared a common ancestor with Ethiopian populations 65,000 years ago.

This suggests that Egypt was most likely to be the gateway through which Homo sapiens spread out of Africa around the world.

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, another of the studies authors at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: 'This important study still leaves questions to answer.

'For example, did other migrations also leave Africa around this time, but leave no trace in present-day genomes?

'To answer this, we need ancient genomes from populations along the possible routes.

'Similarly, by adding present-day genomes from Oceania, we can discover whether or not there was a separate, perhaps Southern, migration to these regions.

'Our approach shows how it is possible to use the latest genomic data and tools to answer these intriguing questions of our human origins and migrations.'

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