June 07, 2016

Mungo Man DNA revisited + first ancient mtDNA from Australia

The authors find that previously published mtDNA from earliest Australians was contamination, and one S2 mtDNA haplogroup in an undated sample of likely Holocene origin.

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1521066113

Ancient mtDNA sequences from the First Australians revisited

Tim H. Heupink et al.

The publication in 2001 by Adcock et al. [Adcock GJ, et al. (2001) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98(2):537–542] in PNAS reported the recovery of short mtDNA sequences from ancient Australians, including the 42,000-y-old Mungo Man [Willandra Lakes Hominid (WLH3)]. This landmark study in human ancient DNA suggested that an early modern human mitochondrial lineage emerged in Asia and that the theory of modern human origins could no longer be considered solely through the lens of the “Out of Africa” model. To evaluate these claims, we used second generation DNA sequencing and capture methods as well as PCR-based and single-primer extension (SPEX) approaches to reexamine the same four Willandra Lakes and Kow Swamp 8 (KS8) remains studied in the work by Adcock et al. Two of the remains sampled contained no identifiable human DNA (WLH15 and WLH55), whereas the Mungo Man (WLH3) sample contained no Aboriginal Australian DNA. KS8 reveals human mitochondrial sequences that differ from the previously inferred sequence. Instead, we recover a total of five modern European contaminants from Mungo Man (WLH3). We show that the remaining sample (WLH4) contains ∼1.4% human DNA, from which we assembled two complete mitochondrial genomes. One of these was a previously unidentified Aboriginal Australian haplotype belonging to haplogroup S2 that we sequenced to a high coverage. The other was a contaminating modern European mitochondrial haplotype. Although none of the sequences that we recovered matched those reported by Adcock et al., except a contaminant, these findings show the feasibility of obtaining important information from ancient Aboriginal Australian remains.


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