November 08, 2006

Microcephalin haplotype from Neanderthals

Bruce Lahn continues his work on the Microcephalin haplogroup D. In a new paper in PNAS he and his team suggest that this brain gene may have introgressed into the modern human gene pool ~37kya from a separate Homo lineage, possibly the Neanderthals. Note that this is an open access article.

UPDATE (May 15, 2010): Neandertals had ancestral MCPH1 allele; hence this paper's inference is essentially falsified.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0606966103

Evidence that the adaptive allele of the brain size gene microcephalin introgressed into Homo sapiens from an archaic Homo lineage

Patrick D. Evans et al.

At the center of the debate on the emergence of modern humans and their spread throughout the globe is the question of whether archaic Homo lineages contributed to the modern human gene pool, and more importantly, whether such contributions impacted the evolutionary adaptation of our species. A major obstacle to answering this question is that low levels of admixture with archaic lineages are not expected to leave extensive traces in the modern human gene pool because of genetic drift. Loci that have undergone strong positive selection, however, offer a unique opportunity to identify low-level admixture with archaic lineages, provided that the introgressed archaic allele has risen to high frequency under positive selection. The gene microcephalin (MCPH1) regulates brain size during development and has experienced positive selection in the lineage leading to Homo sapiens. Within modern humans, a group of closely related haplotypes at this locus, known as haplogroup D, rose from a single copy {approx}37,000 years ago and swept to exceptionally high frequency ({approx}70% worldwide today) because of positive selection. Here, we examine the origin of haplogroup D. By using the interhaplogroup divergence test, we show that haplogroup D likely originated from a lineage separated from modern humans {approx}1.1 million years ago and introgressed into humans by {approx}37,000 years ago. This finding supports the possibility of admixture between modern humans and archaic Homo populations (Neanderthals being one possibility). Furthermore, it buttresses the important notion that, through such adminture, our species has benefited evolutionarily by gaining new advantageous alleles. The interhaplogroup divergence test developed here may be broadly applicable to the detection of introgression at other loci in the human genome or in genomes of other species.


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