June 20, 2006

mtDNA and sheep domestication

Molecular Biology and Evolution (advance access)

Sheep Mitochondrial DNA Variation in European, Caucasian and Central Asian Areas

Miika Tapio et al.


Three distinct mitochondrial (mt) maternal lineages (haplotype groups A, B and C) have been found in the domestic sheep. Group B has been observed primarily in European domestic sheep. The European mouflon carries this haplotype group. This could suggest that European mouflon was independently domesticated in Europe, although archaeological evidence supports sheep domestication in the central part of the Fertile Crescent. To investigate this question, we sequenced a highly variable segment of mtDNA in 406 unrelated animals from 48 breeds or local varieties. They originated from a wide area spanning northern Europe and the Balkans to the Altay Mountains in south Siberia. The sample included a representative cross-section of sheep breeds from areas close to the postulated Near Eastern domestication centre and breeds from more distant northern areas. Four (A, B, C and D) highly diverged sheep lineages were observed in Caucasus, three (A, B and C) in Central Asia, and two (A and B) in the eastern fringe of Europe, which included the area north and west of the Black Sea and the Ural Mountains. Only one example of Group D was detected. The other haplotype groups demonstrated signs of population expansion. Sequence variation within the lineages implied Group A to have expanded first. This group was the most frequent type only in Caucasian and Central Asian breeds. Expansion of Group C appeared most recently. The expansion of Group B involving Caucasian sheep took place at nearly the same time as the expansion of Group A. Group B expansion for the eastern European area started approximately 3,000 years after the earliest inferred expansion. An independent European domestication of sheep is unlikely. The distribution of Group A variation as well as other results are compatible with the Near East being the domestication site. Group C and D may have been introgressed later into a domestic stock, but larger samples are needed to infer their geographical origin. The results suggest that some mitochondrial lineages arrived in northern Europe from the Near East across Russia.


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