The genomic history of the Middle East

Mohamed A. Almarri*, Marc Haber, Reem A. Lootah, Pille Hallast, Saeed Al Turki, Hilary C. Martin, Yali Xue, Chris Tyler-Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Middle East region is important to understand human evolution and migrations but is underrepresented in genomic studies. Here, we generated 137 high-coverage physically phased genome sequences from eight Middle Eastern populations using linked-read sequencing. We found no genetic traces of early expansions out-of-Africa in present-day populations but found Arabians have elevated Basal Eurasian ancestry that dilutes their Neanderthal ancestry. Population sizes within the region started diverging 15–20 kya, when Levantines expanded while Arabians maintained smaller populations that derived ancestry from local hunter-gatherers. Arabians suffered a population bottleneck around the aridification of Arabia 6 kya, while Levantines had a distinct bottleneck overlapping the 4.2 kya aridification event. We found an association between movement and admixture of populations in the region and the spread of Semitic languages. Finally, we identify variants that show evidence of selection, including polygenic selection. Our results provide detailed insights into the genomic and selective histories of the Middle East.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14
Pages (from-to)4612-4625
Issue number18
Early online date4 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Matthew Hurles, Richard Durbin, and members of the Tyler-Smith and Martin groups for constructive discussions and comments. We would particularly like to thank the participants for donating samples for this study. We thank Faisal Al-Hedeithy, Parwar Hamad, Tariq Zeyad, and Mohamed Naji for their assistance in study design. M.A.A. was supported by the Government of Dubai - Dubai Police GHQ . C.T.-S. and Y.X. were supported by Wellcome grant 098051 . P.H. was supported by Estonian Research Council Grant PUT1036 . Parts of the computations described in this paper were performed using the University of Birmingham’s BlueBEAR HPC service.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


  • Arabia
  • Aridification
  • Basal Eurasian
  • Climate change
  • Levant
  • Migration
  • Neanderthal
  • Near East
  • Population genetics
  • Selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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