Genetic Chaos

Friday, June 04, 2004

Independent Histories of Human Y Chromosomes from Melanesia and Australia

To investigate the origins and relationships of Australian and Melanesian populations, 611 males from 18 populations from Australia, Melanesia, and eastern/southeastern Asia were typed for eight single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) loci and seven short tandem-repeat loci on the Y chromosome. A unique haplotype, DYS390.1del/RPS4Y711T, was found at a frequency of 53%–69% in Australian populations, whereas the major haplotypes found in Melanesian populations (M4G/M5T/M9G and DYS390.3del/RPS4Y711T) are absent from the Australian populations. The Y-chromosome data thus indicate independent histories for Australians and Melanesians, a finding that is in agreement with evidence from mtDNA but that contradicts some analyses of autosomal loci, which show a close relationship between Australian and Melanesian (specifically, highland Papua New Guinean) populations. Since the Australian and New Guinean landmasses were connected when first colonized by humans >50,000 years ago but separated some 8,000 years ago, a possible way to reconcile all the genetic data is to infer that the Y chromosome and mtDNA results reflect the past 8,000 years of independent history for Australia and New Guinea, whereas the autosomal loci reflect the long preceding period of common origin and shared history. Two Y-chromosome haplotypes (M119C/M9G and M122C/M9G) that originated in eastern/southeastern Asia are present in coastal and island Melanesia but are rare or absent in both Australia and highland Papua New Guinea. This distribution, along with demographic analyses indicating that population expansions for both haplotypes began ~4,000–6,000 years ago, suggests that these haplotypes were brought to Melanesia by the Austronesian expansion. Most of the populations in this study were previously typed for mtDNA SNPs; population differentiation is greater for the Y chromosome than for mtDNA and is significantly correlated with geographic distance, a finding in agreement with results of similar analyses of European populations.

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Mitochondrial DNA sequences in ancient Australians: Implications for modern human origins

DNA from ancient human remains provides perspectives on the origin of our species and the relationship between molecular and morphological variation. We report analysis of mtDNA from the remains of 10 ancient Australians. These include the morphologically gracile Lake Mungo 3 [~60 thousand years (ka) before present] and three other gracile individuals from Holocene deposits at Willandra Lakes (<10 ka), all within the skeletal range of living Australians, and six Pleistocene/early Holocene individuals (15 to <8 ka) from Kow Swamp with robust morphologies outside the skeletal range of contemporary indigenous Australians. Lake Mungo 3 is the oldest (Pleistocene) "anatomically modern" human from whom DNA has been recovered. His mtDNA belonged to a lineage that only survives as a segment inserted into chromosome 11 of the nuclear genome, which is now widespread among human populations. This lineage probably diverged before the most recent common ancestor of contemporary human mitochondrial genomes. This timing of divergence implies that the deepest known mtDNA lineage from an anatomically modern human occurred in Australia; analysis restricted to living humans places the deepest branches in East Africa. The other ancient Australian individuals we examined have mtDNA sequences descended from the most recent common ancestor of living humans. Our results indicate that anatomically modern humans were present in Australia before the complete fixation of the mtDNA lineage now found in all living people. Sequences from additional ancient humans may further challenge current concepts of modern human origins.

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Mitochondrial Genome Variation and Evolutionary History of Australian and New Guinean Aborigines

To study the evolutionary history of the Australian and New Guinean indigenous peoples, we analyzed 101 complete mitochondrial genomes including populations from Australia and New Guinea as well as from Africa, India, Europe, Asia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. The genetic diversity of the Australian mitochondrial sequences is remarkably high and is similar to that found across Asia. This is in contrast to the pattern seen in previously described Y-chromosome data where an Australia-specific haplotype was found at high frequency. The mitochondrial genome data indicate that Australia was colonized between 40 and 70 thousand years ago, either by a single migration from a heterogeneous source population or by multiple movements of smaller groups occurring over a period of time. Some Australian and New Guinea sequences form clades, suggesting the possibility of a joint colonization and/or admixture between the two regions.

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