Background: Two potential migratory routes followed by modern humans to colonize Eurasia from Africa have been proposed. These are the two natural passageways that connect both continents: the northern route through the Sinai Peninsula and the southern route across the Bab al Mandab strait. Recent archaeological and genetic evidence have favored a unique southern coastal route. Under this scenario, the study of the population genetic structure of the Arabian Peninsula, the first step out of Africa, to search for primary genetic links between Africa and Eurasia, is crucial. The haploid and maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecule has been the most used genetic marker to identify and to relate lineages with clear geographic origins, as the African Ls and the Eurasian M and N that have a common root with the Africans L3.
Results: To assess the role of the Arabian Peninsula in the southern route, we genetically analyzed 553 Saudi Arabs using partial (546) and complete mtDNA (7) sequencing, and compared the lineages obtained with those present in Africa, the Near East, central, east and southeast Asia and Australasia. The results showed that the Arabian Peninsula has received substantial gene flow from Africa (20%), detected by the presence of L, M1 and U6 lineages; that an 18% of the Arabian Peninsula lineages have a clear eastern provenance, mainly represented by U lineages; but also by Indian M lineages and rare M links with Central Asia, Indonesia and even Australia. However, the bulk (62%) of the Arabian lineages has a Northern source.
Conclusion: Although there is evidence of Neolithic and more recent expansions in the Arabian Peninsula, mainly detected by (preHV)1 and J1b lineages, the lack of primitive autochthonous M and N sequences, suggests that this area has been more a receptor of human migrations, including historic ones, from Africa, India, Indonesia and even Australia, than a demographic expansion center along the proposed southern coastal route.