Category Archive 'DNA'
25 Jul 2017

“Ghost Species” Found To Have Contributed Genetic Material to Sub-Saharan Africans

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Homo erectus imagined by the Smithsonian.

Before It’s News:

The evolutionary history of a salivary protein may point to interbreeding between humans and an enigmatic ancient relative

In saliva, scientists have found hints that a “ghost” species of archaic humans may have contributed genetic material to ancestors of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

The research adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that sexual rendezvous between different archaic human species may not have been unusual.

Past studies have concluded that the forebears of modern humans in Asia and Europe interbred with other early hominin species, including Neanderthals and Denisovans. The new research is among more recent genetic analyses indicating that ancient Africans also had trysts with other early hominins.

“It seems that interbreeding between different early hominin species is not the exception — it’s the norm,” says Omer Gokcumen, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

“Our research traced the evolution of an important mucin protein called MUC7 that is found in saliva,” he says. “When we looked at the history of the gene that codes for the protein, we see the signature of archaic admixture in modern day Sub-Saharan African populations.”

The research was published on July 21 in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. The study was led by Gokcumen and Stefan Ruhl, DDS, PhD, a professor of oral biology in UB’s School of Dental Medicine.

The scientists came upon their findings while researching the purpose and origins of the MUC7 protein, which helps give spit its slimy consistency and binds to microbes, potentially helping to rid the body of disease-causing bacteria.

As part of this investigation, the team examined the MUC7 gene in more than 2,500 modern human genomes. The analysis yielded a surprise: A group of genomes from Sub-Saharan Africa had a version of the gene that was wildly different from versions found in other modern humans.

The Sub-Saharan variant was so distinctive that Neanderthal and Denisovan MUC7 genes matched more closely with those of other modern humans than the Sub-Saharan outlier did.

“Based on our analysis, the most plausible explanation for this extreme variation is archaic introgression — the introduction of genetic material from a ‘ghost’ species of ancient hominins,” Gokcumen says. “This unknown human relative could be a species that has been discovered, such as a subspecies of Homo erectus, or an undiscovered hominin. We call it a ‘ghost’ species because we don’t have the fossils.”

Given the rate that genes mutate during the course of evolution, the team calculated that the ancestors of people who carry the Sub-Saharan MUC7 variant interbred with another ancient human species as recently as 150,000 years ago, after the two species’ evolutionary path diverged from each other some 1.5 to 2 million years ago.

RTWT

20 Jun 2017

Cats Have Enslaved Humans For Millennia…

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The Atlantic has an article describing a DNA study apparently determining the geographic and temporal origins of the feline conspiracy to use mankind to do all the work of providing food and shelter.

Sometime around the invention of agriculture, the cats came crawling. It was mice and rats, probably, that attracted the wild felines. The rats came because of stores of grain, made possible by human agriculture. And so cats and humans began their millennia-long coexistence.

This relationship has been good for us of course—formerly because cats caught the disease-carrying pests stealing our food and presently because cleaning up their hairballs somehow gives purpose to our modern lives. But this relationship has been great for cats as species, too. From their native home in the Middle East, the first tamed cats followed humans out on ships and expeditions to take over the world—settling on six continents with even the occasional foray to Antarctica. Domestication has been a fantastically successful evolutionary strategy for cats.

A comprehensive new study of DNA from ancient cat skeletons and mummies spanning 9,000 years traces the spread of cats from the Middle East to the rest of the world. …

Modern domestic cats appear to have all originated in one of two places. The first was Anatolia, which roughly corresponds to modern-day Turkey. These cats spread to Europe as early as 4,400 B.C.E. A second domesticated lineage appears to have begun in Egypt and then later spread through the Mediterranean. And wherever the cats followed humans, they also interbred with the native wildcats already there.

This DNA exchange went both directions along the trade routes, too. That led to what, at first, seemed like baffling results in the ancient DNA. For example, a 2,000-year-old cat in Egypt had DNA sequences typical of wildcats in India. Claudio Ottoni, another member of the research team now at the University of Oslo, remembers thinking it was a mistake when he first got the sequences back on his laptop. In fact, that cat was found in an ancient Roman port city called Berenike, which was directly connected to trade routes in the Indian Ocean. Humans brought cats onto ships to catch mice and, in the process, spread cats all around the world.

Compared to many other animals, cats have also changed very little in the domestication process. Behaviorally, they’ve become more tolerant of humans. Physically, though, they’re still about the same size and shape. They still like to pounce on small prey. “Cats have done since before they were domesticated what we needed them to do,” says Leslie Lyons, a feline geneticist at the University of Missouri. In other words, unlike dogs that herd sheep or hunt badgers, cats didn’t need humans to breed them to become good mouse hunters.

RTWT

01 Nov 2016

Melanesian DNA Reveals Unknown Third Hominid Descent

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melanesians

Research into human DNA has established that some homo sapiens, long, long ago, interbred with Neanderthals. (Hey! democrats had to come from somewhere.) But more recent research into the DNA of South Pacific islanders had found ancestry from Neanderthals and Denisovians and from a previously unknown third hominid group.

Daily Mail:

Islanders in the Pacific Ocean may be may be carrying traces of a long lost human species locked up in their DNA.

Today, modern humans inherit a small chunk of our genes from Neanderthals, with evidence that some of us carry the genetic remnants of a lesser known sister group, called the Denisovans.

But genetic analysis of people living in modern Melanesia suggests they carry traces of a third, as yet unidentified prehistoric relative distinct from the others.

The island groups of Melanesia – which includes Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands and others – are geographically cut off by the Pacific Ocean, with their DNA providing a unique window into how human ancestors spread across the region.

The latest research, presented at a meeting of the American Society for Human Genetics in Vancouver, bolsters previous findings that there may be another strand to the story of modern humans, with multiple groups of prehistoric human interbreeding.

Read the whole thing.

01 Oct 2016

The Kākāpō

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kakapo

New Zealand’s flightless, wingless parrot has had its genes thoroughly sequenced. All 123 of them. (Atlas Obscura)

New Zealand has only three native mammals (all bats), and the country is full of birds that have taken advantage of this lack of predators, acting more like rodents or weasels than your average winged creature. Kākāpōs are no exception. Their faces are covered in feathery whiskers, which they drag on the ground to help them navigate. They’re layered with body fat, and astoundingly heavy—the largest males can weigh as much as a housecat.

Their weight keeps them from flying, but they’re adept at climbing trees, scrabbling up the bark with extra-sharp claws and “parachuting” down with their wings outstretched, like hang gliders. Although technically parrots, they’re so far removed from even their closest relatives that they have an entire genus all to themselves. Even their official government information page calls them “eccentric.”

These eccentricities worked well in a predator-free environment. But once humans brought rats and cats to New Zealand, they decimated the formerly thriving population. Ornithologists in New Zealand got serious about the kākāpō in the late 1980s, and set up a government-sponsored Kākāpō Recovery Programme. In the decades since, the Programme has relocated the entire the entire kākāpō population to three small islands, which they’ve cleared of invasive predators. They have collared and named nearly every individual, and keep careful track of the bird’s family tree.

Their efforts have paid off, and the kākāpō population is up to 123, nearly triple its record low. But it’s still difficult to understand these weirdos. For one thing, they’re simply terrible at mating—they only attempt it every two or three years, when the fruit of their favorite tree, the podocarp, is ripe. When they do try, it’s often a bit pathetic. Males will climb the highest hill they can find, dig a hole, lie in it, and make a booming sound until an intrigued female wanders past.

03 Jun 2016

The Dog, Domesticated Twice

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wolf

The Atlantic has news about the (dual) origin of man’s best friend.

On the eastern edge of Ireland lies Newgrange, a 4,800-year-old monument that predates Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Beneath its large circular mound and within its underground chambers lie many fragments of animal bones. And among those fragments, Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin found the petrous bone of a dog.

Press your finger behind your ear. That’s the petrous. It’s a bulbous knob of very dense bone that’s exceptionally good at preserving DNA. If you try to pull DNA out of a fossil, most of it will come from contaminating microbes and just a few percent will come from the bone’s actual owner. But if you’ve got a petrous bone, that proportion can be as high as 80 percent. And indeed, Bradley found DNA galore within the bone, enough to sequence the full genome of the long-dead dog.

Larson and his colleague Laurent Frantz then compared the Newgrange sequences with those of almost 700 modern dogs, and built a family tree that revealed the relationships between these individuals. To their surprise, that tree had an obvious fork in its trunk—a deep divide between two doggie dynasties. One includes all the dogs from eastern Eurasia, such as Shar Peis and Tibetan mastiffs. The other includes all the western Eurasian breeds, and the Newgrange dog.

The genomes of the dogs from the western branch suggest that they went through a population bottleneck—a dramatic dwindling of numbers. Larson interprets this as evidence of a long migration. He thinks that the two dog lineages began as a single population in the east, before one branch broke off and headed west. This supports the idea that dogs were domesticated somewhere in China.

But there’s a critical twist.

The team calculated that the two dog dynasties split from each other between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago. But the oldest dog fossils in both western and eastern Eurasia are older than that. Which means that when those eastern dogs migrated west into Europe, there were already dogs there.

Here’s the full story, as he sees it. Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in western Eurasia, humans domesticated grey wolves. The same thing happened independently, far away in the east. So, at this time, there were two distinct and geographically separated groups of dogs. Let’s call them Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern. Around the Bronze Age, some of the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated westward alongside their human partners, separating from their homebound peers and creating the deep split in Larson’s tree. Along their travels, these migrants encountered the indigenous Ancient Western dogs, mated with them (doggy style, presumably), and effectively replaced them.

Today’s eastern dogs are the descendants of the Ancient Eastern ones. But today’s western dogs (and the Newgrange one) trace most of their ancestry to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Less than 10 percent comes from the Ancient Western dogs, which have since gone extinct.

Read the whole thing.

newgrangeAerialCU
Newgrange, the white facade is modern.

26 Apr 2016

Men of Haplogroup R1b-L11 (Half the Men Living in Western Europe) Thought to Descend From One Bronze Age Man

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Bronze_Age_Burial
Bronze Age burial.

Genome Web summarizes an interesting paper on “Punctuated bursts in human male demography…” published yesterday in Nature Genetics.

[R]esearchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and elsewhere analyzed the Y chromosomes of more than 1,200 men from 26 populations using data collected by the 1000 Genome Project. After examining about 65,000 variants contained within this dataset, the researchers constructed a phylogenetic tree — a tree, they noted, that more closely resembled a bush in some spots.

“This pattern tells us that there was an explosive increase in the number of men carrying a certain type of Y chromosome, within just a few generations,” co-lead author Yali Xue from the Sanger Institute said in a statement. “We only observed this phenomenon in males, and only in a few groups of men.”

Xue and her colleagues drew upon a set of 1,244 Y chromosomes from men belonging to 26 world populations. …

[T]he branching patterns they observed among several lineages indicated extreme expansion some 50,000 years to 55,000 years ago as well as within the last few thousand years. The expansion 50,000 years to 55,000 years ago was also linked to an increase in lineages outside of Africa and could, they suggested, reflect the expansion of Eurasian populations.

It also supports the previously proposed notion that haplogroup E, which is the most predominant one in Africa, actually arose outside the continent and arrived there through gene flow from Asia some 50,000 years to 80,000 years ago.

The phylogenetic tree also hints that lineages that have spread throughout Eurasia may have first diversified within South and Southeast Asia. …

[These branching patterns] suggested that… bursts of male population growth might correspond to historical events. For instance, they noted an expansion of the Q1a-M3 lineage in the Americas some 15,000 years ago, which roughly corresponds with initial peopling there. In addition, they found that both the Eb1-M180 lineages in sub-Saharan Africa underwent an expansion about 5,000 years ago at about the time of the Bantu expansion. Finally, within Western Europe, they said the expansion of the R1b-L11 lineages some 4,800 years to 5,900 years ago could be associated with the rise of the Bronze Age Yamnaya culture.

The researchers were less certain about the reasons behind some of the other late expansions they observed.

“The best explanation is that they may have resulted from advances in technology that could be controlled by small groups of men,” the Sanger Institute’s Chris Tyler­-Smith added. “Wheeled transport, metal working, and organized warfare are all candidate explanations that can now be investigated further.”

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Leave it to newspapers to popularize this kind of thing. The Telegraph takes the last portion of the reported findings, the part relevant to Merry Old England, and runs with it.

Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.

The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.

He was part of a new order which emerged in Europe following the Stone Age, sweeping away the previous egalitarian Neolithic period and replacing it with hierarchical societies which were ruled by a powerful elite.

It is likely his power stemmed from advances in technology such as metal working and wheeled transport which enabled organised warfare for the first time.

Although it is not known who he was, or where he lived, scientists say he must have existed because of genetic variation in today’s European populations.

Read the whole thing.

11 Mar 2016

Researchers Investigating Origins of Rollo the Viking

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Rollo
Rollo d. 932

History Blog:

Scandinavian researchers have exhumed the bones of two direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking founder of the Duchy of Normandy, in an attempt to answer the long-debated question of whether Rollo was Danish or Norwegian.

Historians have differed on the matter of Rollo’s national origins since at least the 11th century. …

This January, French government and church authorities granted the research team permission to open the tomb of Rollo’s grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II. This is only the second time a French king’s tomb has been opened since World War II. On Monday, February 29th, Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando, opened the two small ossuary coffins buried under the floor southern transept of the gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Inside one of them were the skeletal remains of Richard II, known as Richard the Good, including a lower jaw with eight teeth.

They were hoping to find teeth because extracting ancient DNA is tricky and the genetic material inside teeth is well-protected by the outer layers. Holck and Orlando retrieved five of the teeth. They will be tested at the University of Oslo and the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. If all goes well, the research team and French authorities will announce the results in the autumn.

Read the whole thing.

The closest match I’ve ever found to my own patrilineal DNA (from Lithuania) is that of Somerled the Viking, First Lord of the Isles.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

21 Dec 2015

Genetic Map of Britain

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genetics-mapBritain

The Independent, earlier this year, published an intriguing graphic.

The genetic map shows 17 clusters of similarities in the DNA of modern-day people that echo major moments in history, such as the collapse of the Romano-British culture in the 5th Century and the subsequent rise of the Anglo-Saxons, and the Norse Viking invasion of the Orkneys in the 9th Century.

It also reveals much older movements and separations of people, such as the ancient ancestry of the Celtic people of North Wales who are probably descended from some of the oldest inhabitants of Britain, and the clear genetic division between the people of Cornwall and Devon that still persists along the county boundary of the River Tamar.

“It has long been known that human populations differ genetically, but never before have we been able to observe such exquisite and fascinating detail,” said Professor Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University….

One of the most intriguing signatures seen in the genetics of present-day English is the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons from southern Denmark and northern Germany after the end of Roman rule in 410AD. The DNA samples showed this migration involved intermarriage with the Romano-British Celts rather than wholesale ethnic cleansing, as some historians have suggested.

“The results give an answer to the question we had never previously thought we would be able to ask about the degree of British survival after the collapse of Roman Britain and the coming of the Saxons,” said Professor Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at Oxford University.

“This has allowed us to see what has happened. The established genetic makeup of the British Isles today is reflecting events that took place 1400 years ago,” Professor Robinson said.

Other major events in history, such as the Roman invasion and occupation between 43AD and 410AD, the large-scale invasion by the Viking Danes in 865AD and the subsequent establishment of Danelaw, as well as the Norman invasion of 1066, cannot be seen in the genetic profiles of Britons today.

This probably reflects the fact that often major cultural shifts are carried out by relatively few people within an elite who do not leave their genetic mark on the conquered masses, said Sir Walter Bodmer, the veteran population geneticist who first had the idea of the study.

15 Dec 2015

Herodotus’ Account of Origin of the Etruscans Confirmed By DNA Research

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EtruscanSarcophagusLids
Etruscan sarcophagus lids

The Guardian:

[T]he Etruscans, whose descendants today live in central Italy, have long been among the great enigmas of antiquity. Their language, which has never properly been deciphered, was unlike any other in classical Italy. Their origins have been hotly debated by scholars for centuries.

Genetic research made public at the weekend appears to put the matter beyond doubt, however. It shows the Etruscans came from the area which is now Turkey – and that the nearest genetic relatives of many of today’s Tuscans and Umbrians are to be found, not in Italy, but around Izmir.

The European Human Genetic Conference in Nice was told on Saturday the results of a study carried out in three parts of Tuscany: the Casentino valley, and two towns, Volterra and Murlo, where important finds have been made of Etruscan remains. In each area, researchers took DNA samples from men with surnames unique to the district and whose families had lived there for at least three generations.

They then compared their Y chromosomes, which are passed from father to son, with those of other groups in Italy, the Balkans, modern-day Turkey and the Greek island of Lemnos, which linguistic evidence suggests could have links to the Etruscans.

“The DNA samples from Murlo and Volterra are much more highly correlated to those of the eastern peoples than to those of the other inhabitants of [Italy],” said Alberto Piazza of the University of Turin, who presented the research. “One particular genetic variant, found in the samples from Murlo, was shared only with people from Turkey.”…

The latest findings confirm what was said about the matter almost 2,500 years ago, by the Greek historian Herodotus. The first traces of Etruscan civilisation in Italy date from about 1200 BC.

About seven and a half centuries later, Herodotus wrote that after the Lydians had undergone a period of severe deprivation in western Anatolia, “their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed”.

It was a Roman who muddied the waters. The historian Livy, writing in the first century BC, claimed the Etruscans were from northern Europe. A few years later, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek writer living in Rome, came up with the theory that the Etruscans were, on the contrary, indigenous Italians who had always lived in Etruria.

The Lydian empire had by then long since passed into history. Its inhabitants were said by Herodotus to have been the first people to make use of gold and silver coins and the first to establish shops, rather stalls, from which to trade goods. They gave the world the saying “as rich as Croesus” – Croesus was their last king.

06 Oct 2015

Scientists Identified Skeletons of English Archers on Henry VIII’s Mary Rose

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EnglishArchers

I missed the article at the time, but back in 2012, the Telegraph was reporting that forensic breakthroughs had even succeeded in identifying which of the skeletons of men drowned on Henry VIII’s sunken flagship were elite English archers.

Researchers have identified the elite archers who died alongside sailors on Henry VIII’s flagship, due to evidence of repetitive strain in their shoulders and spines.

The ship sank off Spithead in The Solent in 1545, while leading an attack on a French invasion fleet. It stayed on the seabed until it was raised in 1982 and put on public display.

Over the past two years, scientists from the University of Swansea have been working to identify almost 100 skeletons kept at the Mary Rose Museum, in Portsmouth. …

[N]ew DNA extraction technology has been developed to identify a skeleton’s origin and other personal features such as eye and hair colour.

Scientists have also tested how the bows were used by archers at that time, by using real-life archers.

They have uncovered evidence of repetitive stress injuries among the bowmen, the elite soldiers of their day, which they believe came from hours of longbow practice.

Nick Owen, a sport and exercise biochemist who is leading the work, said yesterday that the developments would help uncover more about the individuals who died with their ship.

The DNA breakthrough had enabled his team to embark on more detailed profiling.

“We know plenty about the Mary Rose but much less about the people on board,” said Mr Owen, from the university’s college of engineering.

“The archers were the elite but the longbows they used took a toll of their bodies and you can see signs of repetitive stress in the shoulders and lower spine.”

A Swedish expert is also working on facial reconstructions for the new Mary Rose Trust museum, which is due to open next year.

At the time, many archers were thought to have travelled from Wales and other areas in the south west of England and were considered the elite warriors of their day.

Previous studies have shown that they lived off a diet of salt beef and biscuits. Their diet also included flour, oatmeal, suet, cheese, dried pork, beer and salted cod.

“They were 6ft 2in or 6ft 3in, and strapping individuals,” Mr Owen said.

“A longbow was 6ft 6in and made from a particular part of a yew tree to generate incredibly efficient ‘spring’.

“It was mega hi-tech, and it gave England and Wales military superiority. These archers were the elite athletes of their day.”

He added to the BBC: “It took years for these Archers to train to get to a level where they could use these very heavy bows.”

Alexzandra Hildred, the curator of ordnance at the Mary Rose Trust, has said the injuries could be the result of “shooting heavy longbows regularly”.

“Many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine,” she said.

“Being able to quantify the stresses and their effect on the skeleton may enable us at last to isolate an elite group of professional archers from the ship.”

19 Aug 2015

Something Peculiar Happened 4000 to 8000 Years Ago

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ReproductionGraph
These two graphs show the number of men (left) and women (right) who reproduced throughout human history.

Pacific Standard:

Once upon a time, 4,000 to 8,000 years after humanity invented agriculture, something very strange happened to human reproduction. Across the globe, for every 17 women who were reproducing, passing on genes that are still around today—only one man did the same.

“It wasn’t like there was a mass death of males. They were there, so what were they doing?” asks Melissa Wilson Sayres, a computational biologist at Arizona State University, and a member of a group of scientists who uncovered this moment in prehistory by analyzing modern genes.

Another member of the research team, a biological anthropologist, hypothesizes that somehow, only a few men accumulated lots of wealth and power, leaving nothing for others. These men could then pass their wealth on to their sons, perpetuating this pattern of elitist reproductive success. Then, as more thousands of years passed, the numbers of men reproducing, compared to women, rose again. “Maybe more and more people started being successful,” Wilson Sayres says. In more recent history, as a global average, about four or five women reproduced for every one man.

24 Jul 2015

Population Y, An Older Than the Ameridians Population in the Americas

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PopulationY

The Register describes the findings of genetic research reported in a paper in Nature, titled “Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas.”

A long-vanished race of humans, whose descendants now survive only among certain indigenous peoples in Australasia and in the Amazon jungles, may have been the true, original Native Americans, according to new genetics research.

The clue to the existence of this mysterious “Population Y” has been found by boffins probing the genes of various native-American peoples. Amazingly, the researchers found that a couple of tribes in the Amazon jungle actually had quite a lot in common genetically with others in Australia, New Guinea and the Andaman Islands.

It’s well known, of course, that humanity spread from its original cradle in Africa out across Asia and thus south to Australasia and separately north – via the Bering Strait land bridge, then in existence – to North America.

The first emigrants across the Bering were the First Americans. What’s not totally clear is exactly when they arrived, how many of them there were, what other groups arrived at what point etc. Given that they were arriving via a travel route just south of the ice sheets which then covered a lot of the northern globe, it’s generally thought that they didn’t come in a continuous stream, but more probably in waves when conditions were favourable.

One widely-held theory has it that the First Americans arrived in one wave of fairly genetically similar people, and this theory fitted pretty well with the observed genetics of native-American people both North and South. But the Amazon-Australasia linkage has pretty much upset that applecart.

“We spent a really long time trying to make this result go away and it just got stronger,” says Professor David Reich of the Harvard Medical School.

Read the whole thing.

Unmentioned besides is a possible third group, the Solutrean Hypothesis, a theory based on archaeological evidence which proposes also some Trans-Atlantic settlement of the Americas.

08 Jul 2015

Studying Viking DNA

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VikingDNA

Adam Piore, in Nautilus, tells the fascinating story of Decode, the company founded in 1996 to collect and study Icelandic DNA, using the genetics of that island nations’s small and closely-related population to find genetic links to common diseases.

In the ninth century there was a Norwegian Viking named Kveldulf, so big and strong that no man could defeat him. He sailed the seas in a long-ship and raided and plundered towns and homesteads of distant lands for many years. He settled down to farm, a very wealthy man.

Kveldulf had two sons who grew up to become mighty warriors. One joined the service of King Harald Tangle Hair. But in time the King grew fearful of the son’s growing power and had him murdered. Kveldulf vowed revenge. With his surviving son and allies, Kveldulf caught up with the killers, and wielding a double-bladed ax, slew 50 men. He sent the paltriest survivors back to the king to recount his deed and fled toward the newly settled realm of Iceland. Kveldulf died on the journey. But his remaining son Skallagrim landed on Iceland’s west coast, prospered, and had children.

Skallagrim’s children had children. Those children had children. And the blood and genes of Kveldulf the Viking and Skallagrim his son were passed down the ages. Then, in 1949, in the capital of Reykjavik, a descendent named Kari Stefansson was born.

Like Kveldulf, Stefansson would grow to be a giant, 6’5”, with piercing eyes and a beard. As a young man, he set out for the distant lands of the universities of Chicago and Harvard in search of intellectual bounty. But at the dawn of modern genetics in the 1990s, Stefansson, a neurologist, was lured back to his homeland by an unlikely enticement—the very genes that he and his 300,000-plus countrymen had inherited from Kveldulf and the tiny band of settlers who gave birth to Iceland.

Stefansson had a bold vision. He would create a library of DNA from every single living descendent of his nation’s early inhabitants. This library, coupled with Iceland’s rich trove of genealogical data and meticulous medical records, would constitute an unparalleled resource that could reveal the causes—and point to cures—for human diseases.

Read the whole thing.

19 Mar 2015

DNA Shows That Tribal Identities Persist in Britain 1400 Years Later

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EnglandMap700

The Telegraph reports that A new genetic map of Britain shows that there has been little movement between areas of Britain which were former tribal kingdoms in Anglo-Saxon England.

Britons are still living in the same ‘tribes’ that they did in the 7th Century, Oxford University has found after an astonishing study into our genetic make-up.

Archaeologists and geneticists were amazed to find that genetically similar individuals inhabit the same areas they did following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, following the fall of the Roman Empire.

In fact, a map showing tribes of Britain in 600AD is almost identical to a new chart showing genetic variability throughout the UK, suggesting that local communities have stayed put for the past 1415 years.

Many people in Britain claim to feel a strong sense of regional identity and scientists say they the new study proves that the link to birthplace is DNA deep.

The most striking genetic split can be seen between people living in Cornwall and Devon, where the division lies exactly along the county border. It means that people living on either side of the River Tamar, which separates the two counties, have different DNA.

Read the whole thing.

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