Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ethiopian origins (Pagani et al. 2012)

The study attempts to answer four questions:
Our current study is motivated by four questions. First, where do the Ethiopians stand in the African genetic landscape? Second, what is the extent of recent gene flow from outside Africa into Ethiopia, when did it occur, and is there evidence of selection effects? Third, do genomic data support a route for out-of-Africa migration of modern humans across the mouth of the Red Sea? Fourth, assuming temporal stability of current populations, what are the estimated ages of Ethiopian populations relative to other African groups?
Link to press release. Link the supplemental data.

The authors reiterate that modern humans left Africa 50-70kya, a hypothesis that seems to me pretty much dead in the light of recent archaeological evidence.

The lack of antiquity in the Ethiopian population, even in only the African component thereof argues against that population being ancestral to modern humans. Note that if the Out-of-East Africa hypothesis is correct, then skulls like Omo I represent ancestral modern humans and they are followed much later by modern humans anywhere else. So, while anatomical modernity may have emerged in East Africa --or maybe not; let's not forget that we have early modern skulls from the region in part because of the excellent preservation conditions and excess of scholarly interest-- there is no evidence that they spread from there.

I have little doubt that my own theory about substantial back-migration of Eurasians into Africa will eventually win the day. Of course, I am not referring to the recent (in the last 3,000 years) admixture with West Eurasians that the Ethiopian population has undergone, but rather to the more ancient migration that was probably associated with Y-haplogroup DE-YAP.

The fact that the African component of diverse African populations is more closely related to West than to East Eurasians is one piece of evidence among many for that scenario. Hopefully, it can be tested soon using whole genome data which may have enough density to detect much older admixture events.

UPDATE I: Since the dates in the paper are based on ROLLOFF, a piece of software that is not publicly available more than a year after its announcement, and which contradicts other software released by the same authors, I will take the Queen of Sheba stories circulated in the media with a huge grain of salt.

The American Journal of Human Genetics, 21 June 2012 doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2012.05.015

Ethiopian Genetic Diversity Reveals Linguistic Stratification and Complex Influences on the Ethiopian Gene Pool

Luca Pagani et al.

Humans and their ancestors have traversed the Ethiopian landscape for millions of years, and present-day Ethiopians show great cultural, linguistic, and historical diversity, which makes them essential for understanding African variability and human origins. We genotyped 235 individuals from ten Ethiopian and two neighboring (South Sudanese and Somali) populations on an Illumina Omni 1M chip. Genotypes were compared with published data from several African and non-African populations. Principal-component and STRUCTURE-like analyses confirmed substantial genetic diversity both within and between populations, and revealed a match between genetic data and linguistic affiliation. Using comparisons with African and non-African reference samples in 40-SNP genomic windows, we identified “African” and “non-African” haplotypic components for each Ethiopian individual. The non-African component, which includes the SLC24A5 allele associated with light skin pigmentation in Europeans, may represent gene flow into Africa, which we estimate to have occurred ∼3 thousand years ago (kya). The African component was found to be more similar to populations inhabiting the Levant rather than the Arabian Peninsula, but the principal route for the expansion out of Africa ∼60 kya remains unresolved. Linkage-disequilibrium decay with genomic distance was less rapid in both the whole genome and the African component than in southern African samples, suggesting a less ancient history for Ethiopian populations.