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Rare African chromosome discovered in Yorkshiremen

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Evidence of ethnic diversity in Britain going back to at least the 18th century has been uncovered by geneticists.

A rare version of the male Y chromosome turned up in seven men sharing a rare east Yorkshire surname during a survey of British men published Wednesday in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

The version, or haplogroup, of the Y chromosome traces its origins to west Africa. As is standard procedure in genetic studies, the surname it is linked to has not been identified by the team from Leicester University, beyond that it begins with "R".

The Y chromosome is passed directly from father to son without being mixed up, unlike the rest of our DNA, so the version each man carries is strongly linked to his surname.

On finding the west African artefact in one individual, researchers were able to recruit six other men with the same surname, and assign all of them to the rare haplogroup, which previously had only 25 known members worldwide, all of whom were African.

The new discovery shows that the huge numbers of Africans enslaved and brought through Britain on their way to the New World may have left a genetic footprint. The haplogroup could have been brought to the north even earlier than the seven's 18th century last common ancestor though; African servants and entertainers were common in Tudor times, and African soldiers were recorded defending Hadrian's Wall for the Romans.

Similar techniques have previously been used to trace male descendants of prolific Mongol emperor Ghengis Khan in Asia. More from National Geographic here. ®

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