Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Reconstructing the Evolutionary History of China: A Caveat About Inferences Drawn from Ancient DNA

The decipherment of the meager information provided by short fragments of ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is notoriously difficult but is regarded as a most promising way toward reconstructing the past from the genetic perspective. By haplogroup-specific hypervariable segment (HVS) motif search and matching or near-matching with available modern data sets, most of the ancient mtDNAs can be tentatively assigned to haplogroups, which are often subcontinent specific. Further typing for mtDNA haplogroup-diagnostic coding region polymorphisms, however, is indispensable for establishing the geographic/genetic affinities of ancient samples with less ambiguity. In the present study, we sequenced a fragment (~982 bp) of the mtDNA control region in 76 Han individuals from Taian, Shandong, China, and we combined these data with previously reported samples from Zibo and Qingdao, Shandong. The reanalysis of two previously published ancient mtDNA population data sets from Linzi (same province) then indicates that the ancient populations had features in common with the modern populations from south China rather than any specific affinity to the European mtDNA pool. Our results highlight that ancient mtDNA data obtained under different sampling schemes and subject to potential contamination can easily create the impression of drastic spatiotemporal changes in the genetic structure of a regional population during the past few thousand years if inappropriate methods of data analysis are employed.

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