Genetic Chaos

Monday, July 19, 2004

Evidence for a genetic discontinuity between Neandertals and 24,000-year-old anatomically modern Europeans

During the late Pleistocene, early anatomically modern humans coexisted in Europe with the anatomically archaic Neandertals for some thousand years. Under the recent variants of the multiregional model of human evolution, modern and archaic forms were different but related populations within a single evolving species, and both have contributed to the gene pool of current humans. Conversely, the Out-of-Africa model considers the transition between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans as the result of a demographic replacement, and hence it predicts a genetic discontinuity between them. Following the most stringent current standards for validation of ancient DNA sequences, we typed the mtDNA hypervariable region I of two anatomically modern Homo sapiens sapiens individuals of the Cro-Magnon type dated at about 23 and 25 thousand years ago. Here we show that the mtDNAs of these individuals fall well within the range of variation of today's humans, but differ sharply from the available sequences of the chronologically closer Neandertals. This discontinuity is difficult to reconcile with the hypothesis that both Neandertals and early anatomically modern humans contributed to the current European gene pool.

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Population genetic implications from sequence variation in four Y chromosome genes

Some insight into human evolution has been gained from the sequencing of four Y chromosome genes. Primary genomic sequencing determined gene SMCY to be composed of 27 exons that comprise 4,620 bp of coding sequence. The unfinished sequencing of the 5'portion of gene UTY1 was completed by primer walking, and a total of 20 exons were found. By using denaturing HPLC, these two genes, as well as DBY and DFFRY, were screened for polymorphic sites in 53–72 representatives of the five continents. A total of 98 variants were found, yielding nucleotide diversity estimates of 2.45 x 10-5, 5.07 x 10-5, and 8.54 x 10-5 for the coding regions of SMCY, DFFRY, and UTY1, respectively, with no variant having been observed in DBY. In agreement with most autosomal genes, diversity estimates for the noncoding regions were about 2- to 3-fold higher and ranged from 9.16 x 10-5 to 14.2 x 10-5 for the four genes. Analysis of the frequencies of derived alleles for all four genes showed that they more closely fit the expectation of a Luria–Delbruck distribution than a distribution expected under a constant population size model, providing evidence for exponential population growth. Pairwise nucleotide mismatch distributions date the occurrence of population expansion to ~28,000 years ago. This estimate is in accord with the spread of Aurignacian technology and the disappearance of the Neanderthals.

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No Evidence of Neandertal mtDNA Contribution to Early Modern Humans

The retrieval of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from four Neandertal fossils from Germany, Russia, and Croatia has demonstrated that these individuals carried closely related mtDNAs that are not found among current humans. However, these results do not definitively resolve the question of a possible Neandertal contribution to the gene pool of modern humans since such a contribution might have been erased by genetic drift or by the continuous influx of modern human DNA into the Neandertal gene pool. A further concern is that if some Neandertals carried mtDNA sequences similar to contemporaneous humans, such sequences may be erroneously regarded as modern contaminations when retrieved from fossils. Here we address these issues by the analysis of 24 Neandertal and 40 early modern human remains. The biomolecular preservation of four Neandertals and of five early modern humans was good enough to suggest the preservation of DNA. All four Neandertals yielded mtDNA sequences similar to those previously determined from Neandertal individuals, whereas none of the five early modern humans contained such mtDNA sequences. In combination with current mtDNA data, this excludes any large genetic contribution by Neandertals to early modern humans, but does not rule out the possibility of a smaller contribution.

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A Reanalysis of the Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Sequences Recovered from Neandertal Bones

Recent reports analyzing mitochondrial DNA sequences from Neandertal bones have claimed that Neandertals and modern humans are different species. The phylogenetic analyses carried out in these articles did not take into account the high substitution rate variation among sites observed in the human mitochondrial D-loop region and also lack an estimation of the parameters of the nucleotide substitution model. The separate phylogenetic position of Neandertals is not supported when these factors are considered. Our analysis shows that Neandertal-Human and Human-Human pairwise distance distributions overlap more than what previous studies suggested. We also show that the most ancient Neandertal HVI region is the most divergent when compared with modern human sequences. However, the opposite would be expected if the sequence had not been modified since the death of the specimen. Such incongruence is discussed in the light of diagenetic modifications in ancient Neandertal DNA sequences.

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Mitochondrial DNA variation and the origin of the Europeans

Sequences from the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region were analyzed in nine European and West Asian populations. They showed low genetic heterogeneity when compared to world populations. However, a Caucasoid population tree displayed a robust east-west gradient. Within-population diversity (ascertained through various parameters) and mean pairwise differences declined from east to west, in a pattern compatible with ancient population migration and expansion from the Middle East. Estimated expansion times indicate a Paleolithic event with important differences among populations according to their geographical position and thus a slower tempo than previously believed. The replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans, fully compatible with the present results, may have been a slower and more complex process than cultural change suggests.

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Monday, July 12, 2004

mtDNA Affinities of the Peoples of North-Central Mexico

mtDNA haplotypes of representatives of the cosmopolitan peoples of north-central Mexico were studied. Two hundred twenty-three samples from individuals residing in vicinities of two localities in north-central Mexico were analyzed. A combination of strategies was employed to identify the origin of each haplotype, including length variation analysis of the COII and tRNALYS intergenic region, nucleotide sequence analysis of control region hypervariable segment 1, and RFLP analysis of PCR products spanning diagnostic sites. Analysis of these data revealed that the majority of the mtDNA haplotypes were of Native American origin, belonging to one of four primary Native American haplogroups. Others were of European or African origin, and the frequency of African haplotypes was equivalent to that of haplotypes of European derivation. These results provide diagnostic, discrete character, molecular genetic evidence that, together with results of previous studies of classical genetic systems, is informative with regard to both the magnitude of African admixture and the relative maternal contribution of African, European, and Native American peoples to the genetic heritage of Mexico. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that African sequences formed a basal, paraphyletic group.

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Native American mtDNA Prehistory in the American Southwest

This study examines the mtDNA diversity of the proposed descendants of the multiethnic Hohokam and Anasazi cultural traditions, as well as Uto-Aztecan and Southern-Athapaskan groups, to investigate hypothesized migrations associated with the Southwest region. The mtDNA haplogroups of 117 Native Americans from southwestern North America were determined. The hypervariable segment I (HVSI) portion of the control region of 53 of these individuals was sequenced, and the within-haplogroup diversity of 18 Native American populations from North, Central, and South America was analyzed. Within North America, populations in the West contain higher amounts of diversity than in other regions, probably due to a population expansion and high levels of gene flow among subpopulations in this region throughout prehistory. The distribution of haplogroups in the Southwest is structured more by archaeological tradition than by language. Yumans and Pimans exhibit substantially greater genetic diversity than the Jemez and Zuni, probably due to admixture and genetic isolation, respectively. We find no evidence of a movement of mtDNA lineages northward into the Southwest from Central Mexico, which, in combination with evidence from nuclear markers, suggests that the spread of Uto-Aztecan was facilitated by predominantly male migration. Southern Athapaskans probably experienced a bottleneck followed by extensive admixture during the migration to their current homeland in the Southwest.

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Unexpected Patterns of Mitochondrial DNA Variation Among Native Americans From the Southeastern United States

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups were determined by restriction fragment length polymorphism-typing for 66 individuals from four southeastern North American populations, and the HVS I portion of the mtDNA control region was sequenced in 48 of these individuals. Although populations from the same geographic region usually exhibit similar haplogroup frequency distributions (Lorenz and Smith [1996] Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 101:307-323; Malhi et al. [2001] Hum. Biol. 73:17-55), those from the Southeast instead exhibit haplogroup frequency distributions that differ significantly from one another. Such divergent haplogroup frequency distributions are unexpected for the Muskogean-speaking southeastern populations, which share many sociocultural traits, speak closely related languages, and have experienced extensive admixture both with each other and with other eastern North American populations. Independent origins, genetic isolation from other Native American populations due to matrilocality, differential admixture, or a genetic bottleneck could be responsible for this heterogeneous distribution of haplogroup frequencies. Within a given haplogroup, however, the HVS I sequences from the four Muskogean-speaking populations appear relatively similar to one another, providing evidence for close relationships among them and for reduced diversity within haplogroups in the Southeast. Given additional archaeological, linguistic, and ethnographic evidence, these results suggest that a genetic bottleneck associated with the historical population decline is the most plausible explanation for such patterns of mtDNA variation.

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