The history of slavery traced in the DNA of tens of thousands of Americans

L’histoire de l’esclavage retracée dans l’ADN de dizaines de milliers d’Américains

The traffic of slaves between Africa and the Americas and the economic and sexual exploitation of millions of men and women until the 19th century can be traced in the DNA of their descendants, described a large study published on Thursday and carried out thanks to the genetic profiles accumulated by the company 23andMe.

More than 50 000 people in the Americas, Europe and Africa participated in this study surprising marrying of DNA analysis, individual and comprehensive records on the ships that transported the slaves, 12.5 million men, women and children between 1515 and 1865, of which 70% were landed in Latin America, and between 300 000 and 500 000 in North America mainland. More than two million died during the journey.

“We wanted to compare our genetic results to overt transport to identify potential disagreements, which appeared in some cases of fairly blatant,” says the AFP Steven Micheletti, geneticist of the company.

They found that, although the slaves were mostly male, african women have over the centuries many more contributed genetically to the current population, what they have observed by analyzing the genes of the X chromosome, which women have in double.

“In some regions, we estimate that 17 african women reproduced for every african man, we would never have thought that this ratio was too high,” continues the researcher.

This is explained by the policy of “dilution” or “bleaching” racial “practiced while in Latin America: the policy was to “whiten” the population by encouraging the reproduction between white Europeans and black inhabitants, particularly in Brazil, the last American country to abolish slavery, in 1888.

“The policy of whitening (branqueamento) were put in place in multiple countries in Latin America, with the funding and subsidizing of travel to european immigrants with the intention of diluting the african descent, by breeding with Europeans clear skin “, write the researchers of the study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Conversely, African men and women in the United States occur in nearly equal proportions.

“The trend was to encourage procreation between slaves to produce more slaves,” says Joanna Mountain, director of research at 23andMe, even if the rape of slaves by their owners were also common.

The study also reveals that African Americans in the United States are mostly linked genetically to the people who lived in a region of Africa that corresponds to the Nigeria current, while at the time, these populations represented only a minority of the slaves sent to the United States.

In fact, they had arrived in the Caribbean and then were retransportés to the United States, a phase for inter-american slave trade that is just beginning to be rediscovered.

The under-representation of the genetic inheritance of the Senegambia in the United States has a explanation claim: “As the Sénégambiens were often cultivators of rice in Africa, they were often transported in the rice plantations in the United States. These plantations were often invaded by malaria and had a high mortality rate, which has undoubtedly led to the under-representation of genetic the Senegambia in the Afro-American today, ” wrote Steven Micheletti.

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