Reconstructing Europeans' genetic evolution through computer simulations and heterochronous molecular data View Homepage


Ontology type: schema:MonetaryGrant     


Grant Info

YEARS

2015-2018

FUNDING AMOUNT

408588 CHF

ABSTRACT

The analysis of the genome of Europeans presents a great potential for reconstructing the genetic history of this continent, which is still poorly understood. Despite the rapid accumulation of genetic and genomic data, no consensus has been reached so far about how the current European genetic pool has been shaped by demographic events since the arrival of the first modern humans (Homo sapiens) and the disappearance of Neanderthals, around 45,000 years ago. This is probably due to the complexity of the underlying evolutionary processes, but also to the variety of biostatistical and computational methods used independently on data available for different portions of the genome. The retrieval of ancient DNA (aDNA) from old European human remains, while very promising, has led to more questions than answers. In particular, the results based on such data suggest an abrupt genetic transition between prehistoric populations and extant Europeans of the same geographic area. This finding challenges most results based on modern DNA, which support the view that European genetic diversity has been shaped in great part by demographic events taking place during ancient prehistoric times (e.g. Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic). Because the development of analytical tools does not follow the pace of genetic and genomic data production, current results have been obtained with methods suffering from severe limitations; in particular, some methods do not explicitly account for ancient molecular data while others do not consider movements of populations through space. The present project aims at providing new insights on the evolution of Europeans by compiling and analysing heterochronous molecular data in a joint fashion through an integrative approach using a newly developed spatially-explicit computer simulation method called SERIAL SPLATCHE, bringing together information on demography, migration, archaeology and environment. This approach is expected to overcome the major limitations and unrealistic assumptions of currently existing methods, by explicitly considering together population structure and migration as well as the specific characteristics of aDNA. It will lead to the development of a new more efficient and unbiased test for detecting population discontinuity through time. Our innovative method will be applied to a very large amount of molecular data available for European populations (ancient and modern) in order to reconstruct the evolution of this continent. The strategy consists in using genetic data on specific portions of the genome, currently available for numerous population samples, to infer the most likely scenario for the settlement history of Europe, and then to validate this scenario by using less numerous, but genome-wide, data. In addition to delivering a substantial amount of results from the systematic analysis of all available genetic and genomic European data, which has never been done so far, this project is expected i) to reconcile the conclusions of today's studies on modern and ancient DNA; ii) to determine to what extent post-Neolithic demographic processes have impacted on the genetic diversity of Europeans; iii) and to clarify the processes by which modern humans hybridized with other archaic species, namely Neanderthal.We believe that our project is timely and holds the promise of solving current interrogations and long-standing debates on Europeans’ genetic evolution. Moreover, it will constitute a fundamental theoretical framework for analysing the evolution of neutral genetic diversity, which will be extremely valuable as a reference model for future genome scan researches aiming at detecting and studying the evolution of disease-related genes and genes under selection. The methods developed in the context of this project are also expected to be very useful in conservation biology and in ecology, both for retrospective and prospective investigations. More... »

URL

http://p3.snf.ch/project-156853

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