A new DNA study published Thursday sheds fresh light on the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, from the legacy of rape that can be seen in today’s genetics to how disease likely decimated some groups forced to work in deadly conditions.
For example, DNA from one African region may be under-represented in the US because so many slaves from there died of malaria on American plantations.
The grim results from a paper, which appeared in the American Journal of Human Genetics, compiled genetic data from 50,000 consenting research participants from both sides of the Atlantic.
It cross-referenced these with detailed records from slave ships that transported 12.5 million men, women and children between 1515 and 1865. Some two million died on the journey.
‘We wanted to compare our genetic results to those actual shipping manifest to see how they agreed and how they disagreed,’ Steven Micheletti, a population geneticist at 23andMe, which recruited most of the participants, told AFP.
‘And in some cases, we see that they disagree, quite strikingly,’ he added.
Disturbingly, the research team found that practices intended to ‘dilute’ black heritage, through policies that encouraged white men to have children with black women had a marked effect on the genetics of black Americans today.
They also found that far more Nigerians were brought to the US as slaves than previously thought, by way of slave trade ships coming up from the Caribbean, a part of black heritage that was previously little known.
The researchers found that while the genetic contributions from major African populations largely correspond to what they expected based on historic records, there are major exceptions.
For instance, most Americans of African descent have roots in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in line with the major slave route.
But Nigerian ancestry was over-represented in African Americans in the US, probably because of the intra-continental slave trade which brought them from the Caribbean.
By contrast, there were fewer genetic connections between African Americans and the Senegambia region than would be expected given the number who disembarked on slave ships in North America.
The probable reasons are grim.
‘Because Senegambians were commonly rice cultivators in Africa, they were often transported to rice plantations in the US,’ said Micheletti.
‘These plantations were often rampant with malaria and had high mortality rates, which may have led to the reduced genetic representation of Senegambia in African Americans today.’
In an interview with DailyMail.com, Dr Micheletti added that he and his co-authors hope their work in some way honors the approximately two million people who died on ships to the Americas that they were forcefully placed on after being enslaved.
Government and slave-owner practices had an enormous impact on African genetics too.
Despite the fact that more than 60 percent of enslaved people brought to the Americas were men, comparisons of genetics reveal a strong bias toward African female contributions in the modern gene pool of African heritage people across the region.
Much of this can be attributed to the rape of enslaved African women by white men, and other forms of sexual exploitation, like the promise of freedom if they birthed enough children.
But the imbalance is even more pronounced in Latin America, where 70 percent of the slaves who survived the ship voyages disembarked, compared to the United States, the new study showed.
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Source: Daily Mail