Genetic Chaos

Friday, July 06, 2007

Alu insertion polymorphisms in NW Africa and the Iberian Peninsula: evidence for a strong genetic boundary through the Gibraltar Straits

An analysis of 11 Alu insertion polymorphisms (ACE, TPA25, PV92, APO, FXIIIB, D1, A25, B65, HS2.43, HS3.23, and HS4.65) has been performed in several NW African (Northern, Western, and Southeastern Moroccans; Saharawi; Algerians; Tunisians) and Iberian (Basques, Catalans, and Andalusians) populations. Genetic distances and principal component analyses show a clear differentiation of NW African and Iberian groups of samples, suggesting a strong genetic barrier matching the geographical Mediterranean Sea barrier. The restriction to gene flow may be attributed to the navigational hazards across the Straits, but cultural factors must also have played a role. Some degree of gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa can be detected in the southern part of North Africa and in Saharawi and Southeastern Moroccans, as a result of a continuous gene flow across the Sahara desert that has created a south-north cline of sub-Saharan Africa influence in North Africa. Iberian samples show a substantial degree of homogeneity and fall within the cluster of European-based genetic diversity.

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Mitochondrial DNA Affinities at the Atlantic Fringe of Europe

Mitochondrial DNA analysis of Atlantic European samples has detected significant latitudinal clines for several clusters with Paleolithic (H) and Neolithic (J, U4, U5a1, and U5a1a) coalescence ages in Europe. These gradients may be explained as the result of Neolithic influence on a rather homogeneous Paleolithic background. There is also evidence that some Neolithic clusters reached this border by a continental route (J, J1, J1a, U5a1, and U5a1a), whereas others (J2) did so through the Mediterranean coast. An important gene flow from Africa was detected in the Atlantic Iberia. Specific sub-Saharan lineages appeared mainly restricted to southern Portugal, and could be attributed to historic Black slave trade in the area and to a probable Saharan Neolithic influence. In fact, U6 haplotypes of specific North African origin have only been detected in the Iberian peninsula northwards from central Portugal. Based on this peculiar distribution and the high diversity pi value (0.014 +/- 0.001) in this area compared to North Africa (0.006 +/- 0.001), we reject the proposal that only historic events such as the Moslem occupation are the main cause of this gene flow, and instead propose a pre-Neolithic origin for it.

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The place of the Basques in the European Y-chromosome diversity landscape

There is a trend to consider the gene pool of the Basques as a 'living fossil' of the earliest modern humans that colonized Europe. To investigate this assumption, we have typed 45 binary markers and five short tandem repeat loci of the Y chromosome in a set of 168 male Basques. Results on these combined haplotypes were analyzed in the context of matching data belonging to approximately 3000 individuals from over 20 European, Near East and North African populations, which were compiled from the literature. Our results place the low Y-chromosome diversity of Basques within the European diversity landscape. This low diversity seems to be the result of a lower effective population size maintained through generations. At least some lineages of Y chromosome in modern Basques originated and have been evolving since pre-Neolithic times. However, the strong genetic drift experienced by the Basques does not allow us to consider Basques either the only or the best representatives of the ancestral European gene pool. Contrary to previous suggestions, we do not observe any particular link between Basques and Celtic populations beyond that provided by the Paleolithic ancestry common to European populations, nor we find evidence supporting Basques as the focus of major population expansions.

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Palaeogenetic evidence supports a dual model of Neolithic spreading into Europe

The peopling of Europe is a complex process. One of the most dramatic demographic events, the Neolithic agricultural revolution, took place in the Near East roughly 10000 years ago and then spread through the European continent. Nevertheless, the nature of this process (either cultural or demographic) is still a matter of debate among scientists. We have retrieved HVRI mitochondrial DNA sequences from 11 Neolithic remains from Granollers (Catalonia, northeast Spain) dated to 5500 years BP. We followed the proposed authenticity criteria, and we were also able, for the first time, to track down the pre-laboratory-derived contaminant sequences and consequently eliminate them from the generated cloning dataset. Phylogeographic analysis shows that the haplogroup composition of the Neolithic population is very similar to that found in modern populations from the Iberian Peninsula, suggesting a long-time genetic continuity, at least since Neolithic times. This result contrasts with that recently found in a Neolithic population from Central Europe and, therefore, raises new questions on the heterogeneity of the Neolithic dispersals into Europe. We propose here a dual model of Neolithic spread: acculturation in Central Europe and demic diffusion in southern Europe.

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