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Biotech Science

DNA Suggests Three Basic Human Groups 459

Death Metal writes "All of Earth's people, according to a new analysis of the genomes of 53 populations, fall into just three genetic groups. They are the products of the first and most important journey our species made — the walk out of Africa about 70,000 years ago by a small fraction of ancestral Homo sapiens."
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DNA Suggests Three Basic Human Groups

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:16PM (#28460413)

    Three Sons of Noah [] are supposed to be the ancestors of us all.

  • by kbrasee ( 1379057 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:16PM (#28460415) Homepage
    Now tell me something I DON'T know.
    • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:28PM (#28460591) Homepage

      Unless one of Noah's sons was black, one was white, and one was east-asian, this is pretty much not possible.

      • Re:I don't think so (Score:5, Interesting)

        by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:44PM (#28460737)

        There's the problem of one man starting a whole new population would lead to inbreeding for a while, so that's the bigger problem. But if that happened and maybe Noah and his wife/wives didn't have any negative recessive genes, or the inbred populations didn't die off, or if you fiat it away (as theists often do), then it's totally possible for three initially identical subpopulations to diverge over many generations.

        If Noah's sons all looked alike and went to different corners of the earth, it's still possible for black populations, white populations, and east asian populations to arise.

        There's still that bigger inbreeding problem. And the total lack of real evidence. And maybe not enough time for that to actually happen with a strict interpretation of the torah/old testament/whatever.

        It is interesting whenever science finds something and you can find something in holy literature that can seem to be a metaphor for it. Carl Sagan pointed out how the evolution of the human brain, the neocortex specifically, paralells the story of the apple of knowledge in interesting ways. Increased neocortical mass may be what really seperates us from animals, gives us shame and self consciousness, and interestingly may cause labor pains for women. Interesting, but it would be a mistake of course to interpret that as evidence for anything.

        Obviously, no one should take that as proof of anything, as you can interpret anything you want. Still, it is interesting.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Please explain this inbreeding problem thingy.

          The way I understand it, inbreeding is a problem because of mutations in our genes.. with two different genes in the same place, the non-broken one can make up for the mutated one, but with inbreeding there's no redundancy.

          Perhaps Noah's offspring hadn't evolved enough to have these corrupted genes - in that case, there wouldn't be a problem. (If I recall correctly there wasn't any law against marrying siblings until way later)

      • That sounds like the beginning to a joke...
      • by nurb432 ( 527695 )

        They were, but he kept the 2 undesirables below deck.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by drawfour ( 791912 )
        What about Noah's sons' wives?
      • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @08:31PM (#28461135)

        Unless one of Noah's sons was black, one was white, and one was east-asian, this is pretty much not possible.

        So you're saying we probably all come from the Village People?

      • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:01AM (#28462671) Homepage

        More important than the diverse ethnicity of Noah's sons is the still-unanswered question of how their tri-homosexual mating could have given rise to such a large population in just 6000 years.

    • Shem was a faker.
      Ham was big and dumb.
      Japheth was a woodcarver who never got married and talked to puppets.
      Got into his head that one of them came to life and ran away from home, so he went roaming the world after it. Nearly drowned doing that.
      Claimed that he survived being eaten by a whale. Changed his name to Jonah after that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:21PM (#28460469)

    I've come to believe that human's are simply programmed to line themselves up in groups, to fight imagined or real enemies in other groups. We're raised on it, jocks vs nerds becomes blacks vs whites vs christians vs atheists vs global warming followers vs global warming deniers vs pro-life vs pro-choice vs republicans vs democrats vs whatever.

    So who else believes this will be the next big advance in 'scientifically supported' bigotry? After all, we now have proof we're better/smarter/more virtuous/taller than *them*.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jack2000 ( 1178961 )
      What strikes me as odd isn't the science or fact that people are different, what strikes me as odd is people seem to be somehow afraid of this and would fret about it endlessly...
      • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:59PM (#28460893)

        I don't think anyone's fretting about it at all. AC is just wondering out loud.

        Anyway, the worst that will happen is some group will protest the finding. The only people who are going to take the findings to conclusions about racial superiority are people who are using it to validate their pre-existing racism. Knuckle-dragging racists aren't made by facts, they're made by ignorance.

    • by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:36PM (#28460671)

      blacks vs whites vs christians vs atheists vs global warming followers vs global warming deniers vs pro-life vs pro-choice vs republicans vs democrats vs whatever

      One ring, one winner. Tonight on ESPN.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eosin ( 1582843 )
      It wasn't that long ago that Anthropology texts said the same basic thing, dividing humanity into three groups called Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid. Then such texts were considered outdated, and worse. Now it appears to have come full circle, with exhaustive scientific investigation apparently verifying what earlier generations noted from simple observation. Of course, 'What It All Means(TM)' for us today is another matter entirely.
    • by malkavian ( 9512 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:24AM (#28464255)

      The future of 'racism' is that word will fall out of fashion and pretty much cease to exist in a generation or so. It's hideously divisive in a modern context.
      At the start, where there was a serious belief in the western world that being non-caucasian meant you were sub-human, then the laws necessary to stop that were a boon.
      Now, anything gets shoved under the context of 'racism' that's meant to cause a knee jerk reaction.
      Say something about someone who was born in Ireland? Racist (their parents may have come from just down the road from you, but hey, 'racist')! Nobody from an 'ethnic group' turns up for interviews for jobs at your company for particular roles? Hey, you're not hiring enough of them, so you're racist.
      The worst thing about the modern "positive discrimination" isn't that it's actually the most prevalent form of racism at the moment, it's that it actually intimates that someone from an ethnic background isn't capable of performing well enough to compete against anyone else, and "allowances" have to be made for them. Filtering back into schools, there's a whole sector of kids that know they'll get jobs allocated to them under this, so don't consider it worth pushing themselves as hard to compete (some of my family work in the school system, and this drives them nuts!).

      Face it, people are people, and some people don't like others for a variety of reasons. Mannerisms, attitude, so on, so forth. The way this used to be dealt with was a little thing called Etiquette, which for some reason seems to be considered horribly old fashioned and outdated these days. The basic principle was that you knew other people were flawed, in the same way you knew yourself to be flawed. Yet everyone needed to keep on going without killing each other. So you looked for the best in people, and given the chance chose to accept something as complimentary rather than derogatory (or at least did so at face), and you exchanged pleasantries, no matter how the barb ran underneath that.

      Now, taking offense is an industry. If you can find a way to take offense to something someone says, there's a quick bit of cash to be had through a Lawyer somewhere who specialises in that. Taking offense on behalf of someone else (who frequently isn't offended at all anyway) is the way to obtain a false sense of self worth. Sure, it makes you feel good (after all, you're looking after "the children"/"some group that can't look after themselves"/"some other group that you're better, and more able than"). It puts you subjectively above them, even if that's not what you think you're doing.

      When science comes up with these figures, it is NOT a method of saying "hey look, food for bigots". It is stating an observable fact. Anything beyond the figures is conjecture. There are three main branches of humanity that have been successful in evolutionary terms. That's possible failsafes in case there's a flaw in one or more branches of the genetic structure that some pathogen can take advantage of. It's a good thing.

      If you instantly think of 'racism' over released figures, I think you're part of a longer, more insidious issue than ever these figures could be.

      • by microbox ( 704317 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @09:49AM (#28465715)
        The future of 'racism' is that word will fall out of fashion and pretty much cease to exist in a generation or so.

        That sounds a little like wishful thinking. In just a few generations we've made tremendous progress with prejudice, however, it is rampant in its grossest forms in much of the world, and about 10% of westerners, who are "ethnocentric".

        Then there's covert racism, which is till common in modern society. Peoples behaviour choices are influenced unduly by racial considerations - esp. when it's personal (eg: choosing a family doctor), or ambiguous (eg: I didn't employ the black person because of his credentials).

        There are many ways to measure covert racism, however, be wary of the IAT [], it's highly controversial, so take what the researchers say about it with a grain of salt. Behavioural measures are the best (ie: watching what people *do*).

        It seems that prejudice is built into the human condition - at least at a subtle level:
        • We form groups as power units
        • We all generate an in-group bias - it's part of a healthy self-esteem
        • We use stereotypes as cognitive shortcuts for organising and quickly processing information. There is no way to /stop/ stereotypes from forming, they are basic mental formations. The trick is not to /believe/ in the stereotypes that somehow get implanted in your head. That's pretty darn hard, and is similar to not having opinions about people. The stereotype, like an opinion, is a mental schema with which we process information.
        • As power units, groups compete, which is fertile ground for distrust and conflict (think republican vs. democrat)
        • Group cohesion relies on dumbing down individual processing. This has been experimentally shown. People are smart, but groups are stupid
        • The confirmation bias [] means that a lot of information just doesn't get critically analysed.

        That's just who we are as human beings, and it means that we're always going to tread a fine line between in-group preference and out-group prejudice, and have difficulty even seeing that that's what we're doing. And that's in ideal situations when there are plenty of resources for everyone.

  • by the-bobcat ( 1360969 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:22PM (#28460485)
    People who do things, people who don't do a thing, and people who wait for things to be done by others.
    • by exley ( 221867 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:33PM (#28460635) Homepage

      Close... People who make things happen, people who let things happen, and people who say "What the hell just happened?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by unfasten ( 1335957 )

        Couldn't a scientist fall under all 3 of those?

        Makes things happen: initiate a chemical reaction
        Lets things happen: watch what happens after initiating said chemical reaction
        Ask "What the hell just happened?" when something unexpected happens and then they try to find out.

    • People who do things


      people who don't do a thing


      and people who wait for things to be done by others


      Yes, I think I've heard this somewhere before.

  • by Haoie ( 1277294 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:22PM (#28460487)

    1. Those who make things happen
    2. Those who watch things happen
    3. Those who wonder what happened

  • As far as I can tell, this story attempts to make three points:

    1. Human genomes tend to cluster into three groups: african, eurasian, and east asian.

    2. We expected that the genomes of different ethnic groups would be very different. They aren't.

    3. Neutral drift is the major story in how ethic groups' genomes differ.

    This pretty much follows the contours of the current orthodoxy in population genetics (with certain distinct exceptions).

    So are these three points meaningfully true?

    1. Human genomes tend to cluster into three groups: african, eurasian, and east asian.

    Generally speaking they /do/ cluster this way. Of course, you can make room for as few or as many clusters as you want-- if it was two, it'd be african/everything else. Three, african/eurasian/east asian. Four, perhaps african/eurasian/east asian/naitive american. Five, perhaps west african/east african/eurasian/east asian/naitive american. From what I've read, the most elegant statistical clusters arise when you allow for four groups (splitting native americans off from east asians). Of course, this clustering gets more complex when you consider admixture populations (e.g., the majority of south america and mexico).

    2. We expected that the genomes of different ethnic groups would be very different. They aren't.

    It's hard to say this is true or false yet, because we simply don't know how functionally significant these differences are. Two genomes may look very similar, yet be very different in many very significant ways.

    3. Neutral drift is the major story in how ethic groups' genomes differ.

    This is code for a very contentious question-- are ethnic differences merely skin-deep? The fact is, we don't know yet. There's a lot of research that points to yes; there's a lot of research that points to no. The answer to this is undoubtedly going to turn out to be: yes and no, depending on the context and the threshold you look at.

    • by schwaang ( 667808 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:40PM (#28460701)

      I'd add a fourth point that to me is even more interesting (and apparently comes from the data):

      As a result [*] African populations today have greater genetic diversity -- more variants in more genes -- than Eurasians or East Asians, and Eurasians somewhat more than East Asians.

      * [The population split away from Africa 70K years ago, and then that sub-population splitting again 40K years ago into Eurasian and East Asian groups. The African source population is 130K years old.]

      • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:40PM (#28461639) Homepage Journal

        The San people (one of the first to split off from the earliest-known haplogroup) are supposed to have one of the greatest levels of genetic diversity of any of the African groups, which themselves are, as you say, generally more diverse than those that left Africa.

        So, to get good genomic data from these people, you have to sample a lot more of them to get an accurate picture. I wonder if the researchers took that into account.

        Oh, another point of interest. The earliest known religious structure in Africa is also 70K years old. Maybe Africans got fed up with them and kicked them out, the way the Europeans did with the Pilgrims.

    • Valuable analysis. Mod to +10.
    • 2. We expected that the genomes of different ethnic groups would be very different. They aren't.

      Seriously, how surprised can we be? We share 98% of our DNA with chimps. Hell, we share tons of DNA with single-celled algae [].

      Think of the genome as a computer program, and genes are little subs that do helpful things. Lots of subs are sitting unused, abandoned, all over our genomes. Lots are called at different times by barely-related parts of our 'human program'. Very different programs can share lots of lines, lots of entire subs. Very different creatures can share lots of DNA, lots of entire gene

  • by JeffSh ( 71237 ) <> on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:25PM (#28460533)

    I take a general offense to the nature of this article, presenting this as though it is some sort of surprise. Researches along time ago classified people into 3 groups and this is merely genetic confirmation of the original findings. They classified people in 3 groups a long time ago, I suppose this is DNA confirmation of the initial categories: Negroid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid.

    non-PC names these days I suppose, but that's what they were called.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Negroid, Mongoloid, Caucasoid.

      Or, less politely: nigras, azns, and honkies.

    • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:56PM (#28460859) Homepage Journal

      Ya i agree, Captain Obvious strikes again, and got tons of funding to do it.

      What is next, 1/2 a million to find out men don't like condoms? oh wait, that was last week..

    • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @08:07PM (#28460951)
      That's not really the same thing, that was classifying human remains via the rough shape of the skull. This is a bit more personal than that is. You may very well be correct, it's just that basing it on genetics is far more likely to have some sort of meaningful accuracy.
    • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @08:07PM (#28460955)

      I take a general offense to the nature of this article, presenting this as though it is some sort of surprise.

      Then you misinterpreted it. The suprise is at the degree of genomic similarity within the three groups. The groupings you mentioned seem to have been validated, but they weren't based on genome studies. Using those old "studies" you couldn't have said anything about the genetic similarity of two ethnicities within the, er, clades? Maybe you could have/did assume, but that would have been without any evidence.

      The suprise is not that there are 3 groups, the suprise is that there are 3 genetic groups.

      (Terminology is a bit off because, well, I'm not in this field)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by arminw ( 717974 )

        ...The suprise is at the degree of genomic similarity ...

        This is no surprise for someone like me who believes that the Bible is true. These three people that restart the human race came from one set of parents and therefore should have most of their genes in common. It is only logical that the three brothers Shem. Japheth and Ham would share most of the genetic code of their father and pass it on to succeeding generations along with certain individual variations that we still see today. What is so strange a

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Did you miss the paragraph on the first page of the article where they explicitly said that this wasn't a new result and then proceeded to say what was the novel finding (subtle as it was)?
  • What's PC now? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:26PM (#28460545)

    So if there's only three distinct ethnic groups, who's the minority now? It's very important for political correctness. Wait... Minorities are an invention of mass-delusions by the public...

    • Re:What's PC now? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:49PM (#28460789)

      there's more Chinese people than any other ethic group. Chances are because you are posting on Slashdot with perfect English YOU are a minority.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by drsmack1 ( 698392 )
        In my experience, if he writes in perfect English then he is either over 40 or from outside the country. So, that still leaves the chance that he is Chinese.
  • Hasn't this been known for a long time? TFA described the three groups but didn't use these terms -- rampant political correctness, sigh..

    • by Old Wolf ( 56093 )

      It's flamebait to speak out against political correctness now?

      • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @08:41PM (#28461231) Journal
        Well, one of the moderations was "redundant", which is fair since someone mentioned the same thing again. But yeah, I think there's some general ignorance surrounding those terms - people think "Negroid" is a slur (just like that politician a few years ago who got lambasted for saying "niggardly"). From wikipedia: []

        In physical anthropology the term is one of the three general racial classifications of humans â" Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. Under this classification scheme, humans are divisible into broad sub-groups based on phenotypic characteristics such as cranial and skeletal morphology. Such classifications remain in use today in the fields of anthropology and forensics to help identify the ethnicity, lineage and origin of human remains.

  • by Tiger4 ( 840741 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:31PM (#28460613)

    The Science nerds, P.E. jocks, and the Marketing schmoozers

  • Dicks, pussies and assholes

    • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )
      I'm not sure 'Team America: World Police' technically qualifies as South Park. Having written a paper on South Park and Team America as compared to Gulliver's Travels and and the Beggar's Opera in my Jr. year of undergrad (damn was that like 4 years ago already?) for my Restoration and 18th Century Literature class (my contention being the so-called "golden age of satire" is a misnomer), I'm somewhat sensitive to the subtle differences in the projects.

      (and frankly, that was probably the nerdiest under grad
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @07:41PM (#28460713) Homepage Journal
    Advances in communication and transportation in the last century mean that members of these three groups are migrating away from the areas their ancestors lived in. I live in Australia but my ancestors came from England. My wife was born in Malaysia but her ancestors came from China. Our son is a mix of two of the groups defined by TFA.

    Yesterday he brought home a school project to work on. Each child in the class has to fill in a page in a scrap book about themselves. His classmates come from England, Spain, China, Egypt, Australia (one Aboriginal boy) and Turkey. The next generation here will be even more mixed than the last.
  • Three groups of people:

    People who know me.
    People who want to know me.
    People I don't want to know, no matter which of the
    above two groups they're in. :)
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @08:10PM (#28460979) Homepage Journal
    This can't be true because the president is a mulatto.
  • Those are the three groups.

    Actually, I thought the article would say that there were Christians in one group, Muslims in the second, Hindus and everyone else in the third. Of course Jews don't count as people.

    Har har har har.

  • It's Obvious. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:03PM (#28461385) Homepage

    Humans, Cylons, and descendants of the aboriginals of this planet.


  • Wrong (Score:3, Funny)

    by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @09:48PM (#28461715) Journal

    Actually, there are only two groups: Us and Them.

  • three? (Score:3, Funny)

    by WilyCoder ( 736280 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @11:15PM (#28462403)

    windows, mac, and linux users?

  • by Torodung ( 31985 ) on Wednesday June 24, 2009 @11:37PM (#28462543) Journal

    Wow! Only three groups of humans. Then we have only one question left to answer:

    Which group do we put on the B-Ark?


    (My apologies to the late Adams-Douglas-Adams and his estate.)

  • by teh kurisu ( 701097 ) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @06:31AM (#28464499) Homepage

    The BBC have an excellent documentary on this subject called The Incredible Human Journey [] up on the iPlayer at the moment. Its focus isn't quite the same as the article's, as it discusses genetics only as a means to confirm or reject theories of how humans made their way around the planet, but it's definitely worth watching if you're in the UK or can use a UK proxy.

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman