IBE (CSIC-UPF) and CEXS-UPF: Slavery and Arabization left a genetic footprint in North Africa

IBE (CSIC-UPF) and CEXS-UPF: Slavery and Arabization left a genetic footprint in North Africa

News from IBE (CSIC-UPF) and CEXS-UPF

Researchers at the IBE (CSIC-UPF), have published an article which analyses the differences between Berbers and Arabs and studies major genetic migrations. Thanks to genomic techniques, scientists led by David Comas, principal investigator of the IBE and director of the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences of UPF, have been able to read these major historical events in the DNA of today's North Africans.

The genomes of Berbers and Arabs from North Africa that have been studied, some 200 individuals in total, have turned out to be more similar than had been previously thought. Berbers have historically been considered as being native populations spread throughout North Africa, according to Comas, "probably at some point they were genetically different, but the various migrations in the area have caused a great mixture and have diluted their differentiation". However, he points out that "these results are strictly genetic and do not imply that the Berbers do not have a very differentiated cultural and social identity".

In fact, genetically speaking, individuals from the same North African population have turned out to be very different from each other, even though they are geographically very close. Arabization, in the 7 th century AD, as well as other migrations, spread throughout North Africa but had different effects within the same location. For example, "in the Zenata, a group of Berbers from the Algerian desert, the mixture with sub-Saharan individuals has not affected all individuals equally, possibly because of their social structure", explains Lara Rubio, PhD student at the IBE and first author of the article.

Image: Berber illustration - Daniel Rubio Arauna

More information:
IBE website and CEXS-UPF website

Reference work:
Arauna L.R.; Mendoza-Revilla, J.; Mas-Sandoval, A.; Izaabel, H.; Bekada, A.; Benhamamouch, S.; Fadhlaoui-Zid, K.; Zalloua, P.; Hellenthal, G.; and Comas, D. (2016). Recent historical migrations have shaped the gene pool of Arabs and Berbers in North Africa. Molecular Biology and Evolution pii: msw218. [Epub ahead of print]