How can genetics clue us in to ancient migrations?

Researchers use genetics to tell us more about the ancient migration out of Africa.

Vocabulary: genetics, mutations, genetic diversity

NGSS: LS4.A: Evidence of Common Ancestry and Diversity, LS3.B: Variation of Traits, and CC1: Patterns. Can be used to build towards HS-LS4–1.

Common Core State Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6–8.2, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9–10.2, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11–12.2

Spreading Homo sapiens. Image Credit: NordNordWest, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists have long known that humans originated in Africa. From there, our species migrated to Europe and Asia, but the details of that journey are less clear. This week in the journal Nature, three groups of researchers filled in a small piece of that puzzle. Annalee Newitz, the tech culture editor at, describes the genetic clues that point to a single migration out of the continent.

Audio Excerpt “Ancient Migrations” Sept. 23, 2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.


  • What was the primary finding of the three studies described in this interview?
  • Why do you think it was important to focus on Africans and Australian Aborigines? What clues might these populations hold that are not found in Europe and Asia?
  • Scientists cannot use genomes alone to reconstruct ancient migrations. What other disciplines and information were used to develop their conclusions?

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