Special Reviews

Genetic Clues to Dispersal in Human Populations: Retracing the Past from the Present

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Science  02 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5509, pp. 1742-1748
DOI: 10.1126/science.1058948

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Ongoing debate about proper interpretation of DNA sequence polymorphisms and their ability to reconstruct human population history illustrates a important change in perspective that we have achieved in the past 20 years of population genetics. To what extent does the history of a locus represent the history of a population? Tools originally developed for molecular systematics, where genetic lineages have been separated by speciation events, are routinely applied to the analysis of variation within our species, with conflicting results. Because of automated technologies and linkage analysis, we are poised to harvest a wealth of information about our past, if we are successful in moving beyond a current polarization regarding models of human evolution. Rather than just suggesting that true resolution will only come by considering fossil or archaeological evidence, the realistic and appropriate application of genetic models for analysis of population structure is also necessary. Three examples from different dispersal events are highlighted here.

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