Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Modern Humans Did Not Admix with Neanderthals during Their Range Expansion into Europe

The process by which the Neanderthals were replaced by modern humans between 42,000 and 30,000 before present is still intriguing. Although no Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineage is found to date among several thousands of Europeans and in seven early modern Europeans, interbreeding rates as high as 25% could not be excluded between the two subspecies. In this study, we introduce a realistic model of the range expansion of early modern humans into Europe, and of their competition and potential admixture with local Neanderthals. Under this scenario, which explicitly models the dynamics of Neanderthals’ replacement, we estimate that maximum interbreeding rates between the two populations should have been smaller than 0.1%. We indeed show that the absence of Neanderthal mtDNA sequences in Europe is compatible with at most 120 admixture events between the two populations despite a likely cohabitation time of more than 12,000 y. This extremely low number strongly suggests an almost complete sterility between Neanderthal females and modern human males, implying that the two populations were probably distinct biological species.

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Evidence that the adaptive allele of the brain size gene microcephalin introgressed into Homo sapiens from an archaic Homo lineage

At the center of the debate on the emergence of modern humans and their spread throughout the globe is the question of whether archaic Homo lineages contributed to the modern human gene pool, and more importantly, whether such contributions impacted the evolutionary adaptation of our species. A major obstacle to answering this question is that low levels of admixture with archaic lineages are not expected to leave extensive traces in the modern human gene pool because of genetic drift. Loci that have undergone strong positive selection, however, offer a unique opportunity to identify low-level admixture with archaic lineages, provided that the introgressed archaic allele has risen to high frequency under positive selection. The gene microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size during development and has experienced positive selection in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens. Within modern humans, a group of closely related haplotypes at this locus, known as haplogroup D, rose from a single copy ~37,000 years ago and swept to exceptionally high frequency (~70% worldwide today) because of positive selection. Here, we examine the origin of haplogroup D. By using the interhaplogroup divergence test, we show that haplogroup D likely originated from a lineage separated from modern humans ~1.1 million years ago and introgressed into humans by ~37,000 years ago. This finding supports the possibility of admixture between modern humans and archaic Homo populations (Neanderthals being one possibility). Furthermore, it buttresses the important notion that, through such adminture, our species has benefited evolutionarily by gaining new advantageous alleles. The interhaplogroup divergence test developed here may be broadly applicable to the detection of introgression at other loci in the human genome or in genomes of other species.

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Evidence suggesting that Homo neanderthalensis contributed the H2 MAPT haplotype to Homo sapiens

The tau (MAPT) locus exists as two distinct clades, H1 and H2. The H1 clade has a normal linkage disequilibrium structure and is the only haplotype found in all populations except those derived from Caucasians. The H2 haplotype is the minor haplotype in Caucasian populations and is not found in other populations. It shows no recombination over a region of 2 Mb with the more common H1 haplotype. The distribution of the haplotype and analysis of the slippage of dinucleotide repeat markers within the haplotype suggest that it entered Homo sapiens populations between approx. 10000 and 30000 years ago. However, sequence comparison of the H2 haplotype with the H1 haplotype and with the chimp sequence suggests that the common founder of the H1 and H2 haplotypes was far earlier than this. We suggest that the H2 haplotype is derived from Homo neanderthalensis and entered H. sapiens populations during the coexistence of these species in Europe from approx. 45000 to 18000 years ago and that the H2 haplotype has been under selection pressure since that time, possibly because of the role of this H1 haplotype in neurodegenerative disease.

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