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Keywords:

  • Libyan Tuaregs;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • Central Sahara;
  • phylogeny

Summary

The Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic pastoralist people of northwest Africa. Their origins are still a matter of debate due to the scarcity of genetic and historical data. Here we report the first data on the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genetic characterization of a Tuareg sample from Fezzan (Libyan Sahara). A total of 129 individuals from two villages in the Acacus region were genetically analysed. Both the hypervariable regions and the coding region of mtDNA were investigated. Phylogeographic investigation was carried out in order to reconstruct human migratory shifts in central Sahara, and to shed light on the origin of the Libyan Tuaregs. Our results clearly show low genetic diversity in the sample, possibly due to genetic drift and founder effect associated with the separation of Libyan Tuaregs from an ancestral population. Furthermore, the maternal genetic pool of the Libyan Tuaregs is characterized by a major „European” component shared with the Berbers that could be traced to the Iberian Peninsula, as well as a minor ‘south Saharan’ contribution possibly linked to both Eastern African and Near Eastern populations.