Monday, 21 January 2013

Ancient DNA from Tianyuan Cave

Another new PNAS paper that hasn't yet appeared in the journal website. Still, from this description at ScienceNews this appears to be Very Important, as it pertains to a 40,000-year-old modern human, which, if I'm not mistaken is the oldest modern human tested so far:
Ancient DNA from cell nuclei and maternally inherited mitochondria indicates that this individual belonged to a population that eventually gave rise to many present-day Asians and Native Americans, says a team led by Qiaomei Fu and Svante Paabo, evolutionary geneticists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. 
The partial skeleton, unearthed in Tianyuan Cave near Beijing in 2003, carries roughly the same small proportions of Neandertal and Denisovan genes as living Asians do (SN: 8/25/12, p. 22), the scientists report online January 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Max Planck press release adds some information:
The genetic profile reveals that this early modern human was related to the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans but had already diverged genetically from the ancestors of present-day Europeans.
This is an important finding because some published demographic models had Europeans and East Eurasians diverging as recently as ~20 thousand years ago. It now appears that they did so already at around the time of the Upper Paleolithic revolution, when unambiguous evidence of modern humans across Eurasia exists.

UPDATE I: While we wait for this paper to appear on the PNAS website, it might be useful to wonder whether the Tianyuan sample might fall on the East Asian/Amerindian group or the more general "Ancestral South Indian" (ASI)/East Eurasian group.

According to current dating, haplogroup M itself is ~50 thousand years old, and most of the subclades therein coalesce to younger than 40ky times. It's possible that the Tianyuan sample dates from a period where ASI/East Asian differentiation had only just begun or was just about to begin.

The press release makes clear that Tianyuan was already "Asian" rather than generalized Eurasian, proving that East/West Eurasian differentiation had begun by ~40kya. It will be interesting to see whether it can be placed on a more specific "East Eurasian" group rather than a generalized "Asian" one.

UPDATE II: The paper is now online.

UPDATE III: From the paper:
Thus, it is related to the mtDNA that was ancestral to present-day haplogroup B (Fig. 1), which has been estimated to be around 50,000 y old (18) (50. 7 ka BP; 95% CI: 38.1–68.3 ka BP). We note that the age of the Tianyuan individual is compatible with this date.
So, it appears to be within macro-haplogroup N, with haplogroup B being, I think, a fairly unambiguously East Asian/Native American clade of the phylogeny. It will certainly be interesting to see how the much more successful -and younger- M subclades ended up dominating East Eurasia.

UPDATE IV: The TreeMix analysis clearly places Tianyuan within the Asian group, but does not resolve whether Papuans are an outgroup to East Asians/Tianyuan:

I guess that is expected (see my UPDATE I), since Tianyuan dates from a period where within-Asia differentiation had only just begun or was about to begin.

UPDATE V: With respect to sharing of alleles with archaic Eurasian hominins, the Tianyuan sample is within the modern range of variation.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1221359110

DNA analysis of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave, China

Qiaomei Fu et al.

Hominins with morphology similar to present-day humans appear in the fossil record across Eurasia between 40,000 and 50,000 y ago. The genetic relationships between these early modern humans and present-day human populations have not been established. We have extracted DNA from a 40,000-y-old anatomically modern human from Tianyuan Cave outside Beijing, China. Using a highly scalable hybridization enrichment strategy, we determined the DNA sequences of the mitochondrial genome, the entire nonrepetitive portion of chromosome 21 (~30 Mbp), and over 3,000 polymorphic sites across the nuclear genome of this individual. The nuclear DNA sequences determined from this early modern human reveal that the Tianyuan individual derived from a population that was ancestral to many present-day Asians and Native Americans but postdated the divergence of Asians from Europeans. They also show that this individual carried proportions of DNA variants derived from archaic humans similar to present-day people in mainland Asia.


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