DECEMBER 2014: Three New Research Papers by EUROTAST

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First, Petr Triska and his advisor, Luisa Pereira, authored an article in Nature’s Scientific Reports on the differences in selection signatures between human populations. By investigating the diversity in 104 nuclear-coded mitochondrial proteins from a worldwide sample of 1,092 individuals, the study showed a significantly lower amount of pathogenic mutations in Europeans when compared with Africans and Asians. The members of the research team link these differences to African and Asian populations expanding mainly during the middle Holocene, around 5,000 years ago, while European expansion occurred earlier in the post-glacial period, at 11,000 years ago. These large-scale studies of genetic diversity across population groups are important to EUROTAST to establish a context for explaining functional genetic diversity between African and non-African descendents.

Members of EUROTAST including Matthew Collins, Tom Gilbert, and Jessica Hendy have established a direct method of identifying milk consumption in skeletal remains, also published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.To test their hypothesis regarding the presence of milk proteins, the team of researchers tested the teeth from the burials found across Europe with those of Central West Africans buried on the island of St. Helena. These Central West Africans originated from a region known for very low or no milk consumption. The new method also allowed them to distinguish between cattle, sheep and goat dairy product consumption. The ability to identify milk consumption directly in skeletal remains, instead of from remains left in artifacts such as pottery, allows archaeologists to understand cultural, social, and environmental factors influencing food consumption in the past, and how drinking milk may have impacted on human genetics

Finally, Hákon Jónsson and his advisor Ludovic Orlando have applied the computational methods that they have developed during the EUROTAST project aimed at analysing genomic data in a temporal context, to an alternate study system – the equids. Specifically, by tracing the demographic expansion and collapses using DNA from horses, asses, zebras, and the extinct quagga zebra, they showcase how the methods developed in EUROTAST have wide reaching impacts. In this study, they found a complex history for the whole lineage, with the earliest divergence occurring in North America some 4-4.5 million years ago and a dispersion to the Old World some 0.6-2.4 million years later. The lineage then radiated into the diversity of species that we know today, which are all adapted to a range of ecological niches. In addition they found multiple cases where different equine species reproduced with each others and dynamic population size changes following major climate changes.

The ability to reconstruct differences in genetic variation across time and geographic distance can be directly related to EUROTAST research in the attempt to understand the dynamic history of human migration across the globe.

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