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Gene study sheds new light on origins of British men

New genetic evidence reveals that most British men are not descended from immigrant farmers who migrated east 5,000-10,000 years ago – contrary to previous research. Instead, scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh say that most European men can trace their lineage to people – most likely hunter-gatherers – who had settled in Europe long before that time.

The latest study, based on the most common genetic lineage in European males, aims to correct an analysis of genetic data, published last year. It had reported that most British men came from people who migrated west, with the spread of agriculture, from the Near East.

More than 100 million European men have a set of genes called R-M269, including about three-quarters of British men. A key question in understanding the peopling of Europe is when this group spread out across Europe.

Researchers say their work shows that the set of genes chosen to estimate the age of this group of men vary the outcome enormously. They add that the previously reported east-west pattern is not found in their larger and more comprehensive dataset . This, the Oxford – Edinburgh team says, leaves little evidence for a farmer-led dispersal of this major group.

According to Dr Cristian Capelli, the Oxford geneticist who led the research, the study "resets" the debate on the peopling of Europe. He says, "Our works overturns the recent claims of European Y chromosomes being brought into the continent by farmers."

Co-author, Dr Jim Wilson of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Population Health Sciences, adds that the paper shows for the first time that certain properties of the genes studied strongly influence the accuracy of the date estimate.

"Estimating a date at which an ancestral lineage originated is an interesting application of genetics, but unfortunately it is beset with difficulties and it is very difficult to provide good dates. Many people assume that the more genes the more accurate the dates, but this is not the case: some genetic markers are more suited to dating than others."

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