Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A Signal, from Human mtDNA, of Postglacial Recolonization in Europe

Mitochondrial HVS-I sequences from 10,365 subjects belonging to 56 populations/geographical regions of western Eurasia and northern Africa were first surveyed for the presence of the T->C transition at nucleotide position 16298, a mutation which has previously been shown to characterize haplogroup V mtDNAs. All mtDNAs with this mutation were then screened for a number of diagnostic RFLP sites, revealing two major subsets of mtDNAs. One is haplogroup V proper, and the other has been termed “pre*V,” since it predates V phylogenetically. The rather uncommon pre*V tends to be scattered throughout Europe (and northwestern Africa), whereas V attains two peaks of frequency: one situated in southwestern Europe and one in the Saami of northern Scandinavia. Geographical distributions and ages support the scenario that pre*V originated in Europe before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), whereas the more recently derived haplogroup V arose in a southwestern European refugium soon after the LGM. The arrival of V in eastern/central Europe, however, occurred much later, possibly with (post-)Neolithic contacts. The distribution of haplogroup V mtDNAs in modern European populations would thus, at least in part, reflect the pattern of postglacial human recolonization from that refugium, affecting even the Saami. Overall, the present study shows that the dissection of mtDNA variation into small and well-defined evolutionary units is an essential step in the identification of spatial frequency patterns. Mass screening of a few markers identified using complete mtDNA sequences promises to be an efficient strategy for inferring features of human prehistory.

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High-resolution mtDNA evidence for the late-glacial resettlement of Europe from an Iberian refugium

The advent of complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence data has ushered in a new phase of human evolutionary studies. Even quite limited volumes of complete mtDNA sequence data can now be used to identify the critical polymorphisms that define sub-clades within an mtDNA haplogroup, providing a springboard for large-scale high-resolution screening of human mtDNAs. This strategy has in the past been applied to mtDNA haplogroup V, which represents <5% of European mtDNAs. Here we adopted a similar approach to haplogroup H, by far the most common European haplogroup, which at lower resolution displayed a rather uninformative frequency distribution within Europe. Using polymorphism information derived from the growing complete mtDNA sequence database, we sequenced 1580 base pairs of targeted coding-region segments of the mtDNA genome in 649 individuals harboring mtDNA haplogroup H from populations throughout Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East. The enhanced genealogical resolution clearly shows that sub-clades of haplogroup H have highly distinctive geographical distributions. The patterns of frequency and diversity suggest that haplogroup H entered Europe from the Near East ~20,000–25,000 years ago, around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), and some sub-clades re-expanded from an Iberian refugium when the glaciers retreated ~15,000 years ago. This shows that a large fraction of the maternal ancestry of modern Europeans traces back to the expansion of hunter-gatherer populations at the end of the last Ice Age.

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