A new perspective on ancient human genomic diversity

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It’s commonly discussed how each of our genomes contains a story documenting the migration by our ancient ancestors.  This is most certainly true in that it is apparent we all originated from Africa and migrated to other continents from there. A study published today in Investigative Genetics proposes that some of the genetic diversity we commonly assume to be ancient may in fact be due to recent demographic events within the last 2000 years.

 

This study analyzed single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 999 individuals at 54 sites across the Netherlands. The authors studied this population in the expectation that the ancient genetic signatures from Paleolithic and Neolithic times, such as the Southeast to Northwest cline observed across Europe, would not be detectable in the contemporary Dutch gene pool.

 

After analysis, the results demonstrated a subtle but very apparent genetic substructure across the country, dividing the population into four main genetic groups, and resembling the variation across Europe. Further to this, the observed pattern clearly correlated with geological and archaeological records for genetic discontinuities within the country. The authors therefore concluded that it is much more likely that this pattern in the gene pool was due to recent population movements.

 

The findings from this study suggest it is important for future genetic epidemiology studies that we clarify the contributions of both ancient and recent events to genetic diversity in populations. If further research were to confirm that recent demographic events are responsible for genetic diversity, this could provide useful investigative information to help profile unknown individuals in forensics, and also change the way we currently look at population genetics.

 

You can read the full article on the website, where you can also sign up for article alerts from the journal. For more information on Investigative Genetics, or to submit a manuscript, please visit the journal website or contact the Editorial Office.