Genetic Heterogeneity between Berbers and Arabs


The human population history of North Africa has been different from the rest of the continent, and it has been characterised by population replacements, extensive continuous gene flow, and differential admixture from neighbouring regions. This complex demographic landscape has yielded a large degree of genetic heterogeneity among North African populations. Recent historical admixture processes have been inferred from genome‐wide data; no correlation between genetics and ethnic groups has been described, pointing to a lack of genetic differentiation between Berber and Arab groups in North Africa. This complex genetic population structure should be taken into account when designing biomedical approaches in North African groups.

Key Concepts

  • A back‐to‐Africa migration replaced the population of North Africa in pre‐Holocene times.
  • North African populations are very heterogeneous and are composed of North African, Middle Eastern, sub‐Saharan and European genetic components.
  • No genetic differences have been found between Arab and Berber groups.
  • The Arab expansion had an important cultural and genetic impact in North Africa.
  • The Berber people are genetically diverse and heterogeneous.

Keywords: North Africa; Berbers; Arabs; genetic heterogeneity; admixture; population genetics

Figure 1. Haplogroup frequencies for different Berber and Arab populations for (a) mitochondrial DNA (data from Coudray et al., and Plaza et al., ) and (b) Y chromosome (data from Arredi et al., 2004).
Figure 2. Analyses of autosomal markers. Each bar shows the proportion of the genome that each individual share with each of the four ancestral populations according to ChromoPainter analyses (Lawson et al., ). The separation between bars within each population represents clusters of individuals with similar ancestry proportions. Source: Arauna et al. 2017.


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Nielsen R, Akey JM, Jakobsson M, et al. (2017) Tracing the peopling of the world through genomics. Nature 541 (7637): 302–310.

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Arauna, Lara R, and Comas, David(Sep 2017) Genetic Heterogeneity between Berbers and Arabs. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027485]