Planet Earth

Europe, 10,000 B.C.

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJan 8, 2012 5:31 AM

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The image above come from John Hawks' weblog. I was thinking today about the resettlement of Europe since the Last Glacial Maximum. It is clear that much of northern Europe was not habitable until the Holocene, after the Ice Age. And those regions which were habitable were often marginal. But, there were zones of southern Europe which remained relatively clement. One model of how Europe was settled after the warming is that hunter-gatherers expanded north out of these southern refuges. This can explain the lower heterozygosity of northern populations (see map to left). They may have lost their genetic diversity to some extent through population bottlenecks or simply drift on the wave of demographic advance. And yet something jumped out at me on this map: the southwest portion of Portugal is reputedly the zone with the highest African admixture in continental Europe (for historical reasons). The heterozygosity may simply be a function then of the fact that southern Europe has been in greater contact with other regions of the world because of geographic proximity. There is also a second pattern which has always elicited curiosity in me: why is it that the largest component of genetic variation in Europe separates north vs. south, as opposed to east vs. west? This does not seem to comport well with a model of expansion from southern refuges. Should not the west-east genetic variation of Ice Age Europeans who faced the tundra and ice be represented among modern populations as they expanded their range northward simultaneously? Something is wrong with the model. First, it seems clear that a lot has changed since the Last Glacial Maximum. As recently as the late aughts authors were claiming that by ~20,000 years before the present the general shape of genetic variation we see around us had been set. I'd be willing to bet $5,000 dollars that that's wrong. In the specific case of Europe there may be many explanations for the set of patterns we're seeing. It may be that the original populations of the refuges were later replaced. Northern Europeans may be legitimate descendants of those groups, but the original patterns of genetic variation in southern Europe were washed away due to being overwhelmed by Neolithic populations from Anatolia. Or, it may be that modern people in the north of Europe descend from a group which moved laterally, and replaced and assimilated the original inhabitants of the continent. There are many plausible models, and combinations of models. From what I have read people in the Reich lab are now attempting to construct a scenario for the ethnogenesis of Europeans analogous to that of South Asians. In other words, modern Europeans are a compound of the descendants of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers with an intrusive population. The same lab seems to be positive that Indo-Europeans did have a substantial effect on genetics of South Asians. If so, then I see no reason why the same would not be so in Europe. In any case, interesting times. We'll know a lot more in exceedingly great detail soon enough (I'd be willing to bet money on that too!).

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