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05/01/2014 - 4:00pmCorey Fields
Researchers home in on roots of Caribbean populations using new DNA analysis method
Carlos Bustamante led a team that examined patterns of genetic variation in Caribbean populations.
Those of us who want to learn about our ancestors — who they were, where they came from and how they mingled (or didn’t) with others around them — often turn to historical records or elderly family members for answers. But a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine indicates that the answers can also be found within our own genes.
The researchers compared patterns of genetic variation found in populations in and around the Caribbean, which has had a particularly tumultuous past since Christopher Columbus stumbled into the Bahamas in 1492. Not only did they identify an influx of European genes into the native population that occurred within a generation of Columbus’ arrival, but they also discovered two geographically distinct pulses of African immigration that correspond to the beginning and height of the transatlantic slave trade.
The study demonstrates how deciphering genetic echoes from the distant past can illuminate human history. But it also helps explain why some populations, like Latinos, who may be classified by medical researchers as a single group, display marked differences among populations in susceptibility to diseases or responses to therapeutic drugs.