Gene Studies Support 'Queen of Sheba' Legend

Ethiopian genomes strikingly similar to those of groups in Israel, Syria

THURSDAY, June 21, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Cited in both the Bible and the Quran, the legendary African ruler the Queen of Sheba was said to have had a child with King Solomon of Israel.

Now scientists studying the genomes of people in Ethiopia say there is genetic evidence that may support this age-old tale.

The team found that the genomes of some groups of people in Ethiopia show mixing with non-African populations about 3,000 years ago, and bear striking similarities to those of populations in Israel and Syria.

"We found that some Ethiopians have 40 percent to 50 percent of their genome closer to the genomes of populations outside of Africa, while the remaining half of their genome is closer to populations within the African continent," study co-author Toomas Kivisild, from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said in a Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute news release.

"We calculated genetic distances and found that these non-African regions of the genome are closest to populations in Egypt, Israel and Syria, rather than to the neighboring Yemeni and Arabs," Kivisild said.

The genetic findings -- along with previous linguistic studies -- are consistent with the legend of the Queen of Sheba, the team said.

The study appears in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Ethiopia, which is located on the horn of Africa, is believed to be one of the gateways used by ancient humans to spread from Africa to the rest of the world. Groups of people in Ethiopia are among the most diverse in the world, and studying their genetic heritage could help scientists learn more about the origin of the first humans.

"From their geographic location, it is logical to think that migration out of Africa 60,000 years ago began in either Ethiopia or Egypt," study first author Luca Pagani, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge, said in the news release. "Little was previously known about the populations inhabiting the Northeast African region from a genomic perspective. This is the first genome study on a representative panel of Ethiopian populations."

"We wanted to compare the genome of Ethiopians with other Africans to provide an essential piece to the African -- and world -- genetic jigsaw," Pagani said.

More information

The U.S. Department of State has more about Ethiopia.

Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, news release, June 21, 2012
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