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How the European genome was formed

Were the big cultural transitions in Europe during the Stone Age and the Bronze Age simply a result of ideas spreading across the continent or were migrating people taking over the land? By using new improved ancient DNA technology European research has investigated these key events in human prehistory.
How the European genome was formed
The NEOLITHISATION (Population replacement or continuity? A genomic contribution to the Neolithisation debate) project has studied ancient DNA from over 600 people from ancient European and Central Asian populations. By improving the recovery of DNA from ancient teeth, the genomes of more than 100 individuals were analysed. This work has resulted in groundbreaking new insights into the formation of the European gene pool.

Supporting the theory that farming in Europe was originally introduced by incoming migrants, the characterisation of the full genome sequence of a 7,500 year old Mesolithic hunter-gatherer (pre-farming) showed that he was not related to the Neolithic cultures that replaced him. Nor did he have any close genetic resemblance to modern European populations. The data also revealed that he was poor at digesting starch and milk, because these traits were only selected for later, during the transition to farming. Led by researchers in Spain, this study was published in Nature.

The Neolithic Era ended in the Bronze Age when metal tools replaced stone and farming was fully established as a way of life. Genome-wide data from 101 Bronze Age Eurasians revealed a dynamic period with large-scale human migrations having a major impact on both the European and Asian gene pools. The study was published in Nature and is the largest ancient DNA study undertaken to date.

Thus, NEOLITHISATION has been able to document the demographic events in two of the most significant eras of change in European prehistory.

Further analyses of the genetic data showed that at least 7 of the 101 individuals were infected with plague. This is at least 3000 years earlier than any historical record of this disease. This study was published in Cell.

Improved protocols of how to extract ancient DNA are now available to labs worldwide as these have been published in Scientific Reports.

Related information


European, hunter-gatherer, farmer, Stone Age, migration, DNA analysis methods, ancient DNA, Bronze Age, population genomics
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