May 13, 2006

The origin of European cattle

PNAS has a new article on the origin of European cattle. From the conclusions:
The modern and ancient mtDNA sequences we present here do not support the currently accepted hypothesis of a single Neolithic origin in the Near East. The processes of livestock domestication and diffusion were certainly more complex than previously suggested, and our data provide some evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the origin of European cattle is multiple. Breeds domesticated in the Near East and introduced in Europe during the Neolithic diffusion probably intermixed, at least in some regions, with local wild animals and with African cattle introduced by maritime routes. As a consequence, European breeds should represent a more diverse and important genetic resource than previously recognized, especially in the Southern regions.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0509210103

The origin of European cattle: Evidence from modern and ancient DNA

Albano Beja-Pereira et al.

Cattle domestication from wild aurochsen was among the most important innovations during the Neolithic agricultural revolution. The available genetic and archaeological evidence points to at least two major sites of domestication in India and in the Near East, where zebu and the taurine breeds would have emerged independently. Under this hypothesis, all present-day European breeds would be descended from cattle domesticated in the Near East and subsequently spread during the diffusion of herding and farming lifestyles. We present here previously undescribed genetic evidence in contrast with this view, based on mtDNA sequences from five Italian aurochsen dated between 7,000 and 17,000 years B.P. and >1,000 modern cattle from 51 breeds. Our data are compatible with local domestication events in Europe and support at least some levels of introgression from the aurochs in Italy. The distribution of genetic variation in modern cattle suggest also that different south European breeds were affected by introductions from northern Africa. If so, the European cattle may represent a more variable and valuable genetic resource than previously realized, and previous simple hypotheses regarding the domestication process and the diffusion of selected breeds should be revised.


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