The study was led by Luca Cavalli-Sforza, PhD, emeritus professor of genetics, who has spent most of his career tracking the evolution of modern humans. Much of his current work involves following mutations in the Y chromosome, which is passed exclusively from father to son, as humans migrated from Africa and spread to the rest of the world during the past 50,000 years.
These mutations, most of which cause no physical change, tend to appear at a constant rate, providing a genetic timer. For example, if a population has 10 mutations after 50,000 years of evolution from the common ancestor in Africa, then the fifth mutation probably arose 25,000 years ago. But where was the population located at that time? Until now genetics hasn't had an answer.
"If we know the time when a mutation arose we know something. If we also knew the place we'd know almost everything," Cavalli-Sforza said.
With the help of senior application software developer Christopher Edmonds and statistician Anita Lillie, both researchers at Stanford, Cavalli-Sforza built a computer model to simulate how mutations spread in a migrating population. The results of this work are published in this week's online issue of Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.
The group reduced the world's continents to a simple rectangular grid. They populated the first few squares with computerized human populations and gave those electronic villages realistic rates for population growth, migration an
Contact: Amy Adams
Stanford University Medical Center