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1.  Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(11):e1000536.
The first farmers from Central Europe reveal a genetic affinity to modern-day populations from the Near East and Anatolia, which suggests a significant demographic input from this area during the early Neolithic.
In Europe, the Neolithic transition (8,000–4,000 b.c.) from hunting and gathering to agricultural communities was one of the most important demographic events since the initial peopling of Europe by anatomically modern humans in the Upper Paleolithic (40,000 b.c.). However, the nature and speed of this transition is a matter of continuing scientific debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. To date, inferences about the genetic make up of past populations have mostly been drawn from studies of modern-day Eurasian populations, but increasingly ancient DNA studies offer a direct view of the genetic past. We genetically characterized a population of the earliest farming culture in Central Europe, the Linear Pottery Culture (LBK; 5,500–4,900 calibrated b.c.) and used comprehensive phylogeographic and population genetic analyses to locate its origins within the broader Eurasian region, and to trace potential dispersal routes into Europe. We cloned and sequenced the mitochondrial hypervariable segment I and designed two powerful SNP multiplex PCR systems to generate new mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal data from 21 individuals from a complete LBK graveyard at Derenburg Meerenstieg II in Germany. These results considerably extend the available genetic dataset for the LBK (n = 42) and permit the first detailed genetic analysis of the earliest Neolithic culture in Central Europe (5,500–4,900 calibrated b.c.). We characterized the Neolithic mitochondrial DNA sequence diversity and geographical affinities of the early farmers using a large database of extant Western Eurasian populations (n = 23,394) and a wide range of population genetic analyses including shared haplotype analyses, principal component analyses, multidimensional scaling, geographic mapping of genetic distances, and Bayesian Serial Simcoal analyses. The results reveal that the LBK population shared an affinity with the modern-day Near East and Anatolia, supporting a major genetic input from this area during the advent of farming in Europe. However, the LBK population also showed unique genetic features including a clearly distinct distribution of mitochondrial haplogroup frequencies, confirming that major demographic events continued to take place in Europe after the early Neolithic.
Author Summary
The transition from a hunter–gatherer existence to a sedentary farming-based lifestyle has had key consequences for human groups around the world and has profoundly shaped human societies. Originating in the Near East around 11,000 y ago, an agricultural lifestyle subsequently spread across Europe during the New Stone Age (Neolithic). Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. Ancient DNA from the earliest farmers can provide a direct view of the genetic diversity of these populations in the earliest Neolithic. Here, we compare Neolithic haplogroups and their diversity to a large database of extant European and Eurasian populations. We identified Neolithic haplotypes that left clear traces in modern populations, and the data suggest a route for the migrating farmers that extends from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe. When compared to indigenous hunter–gatherer populations, the unique and characteristic genetic signature of the early farmers suggests a significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming in Europe.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000536
PMCID: PMC2976717  PMID: 21085689
2.  Preferential access to genetic information from endogenous hominin ancient DNA and accurate quantitative SNP-typing via SPEX 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;38(2):e7.
The analysis of targeted genetic loci from ancient, forensic and clinical samples is usually built upon polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-generated sequence data. However, many studies have shown that PCR amplification from poor-quality DNA templates can create sequence artefacts at significant levels. With hominin (human and other hominid) samples, the pervasive presence of highly PCR-amplifiable human DNA contaminants in the vast majority of samples can lead to the creation of recombinant hybrids and other non-authentic artefacts. The resulting PCR-generated sequences can then be difficult, if not impossible, to authenticate. In contrast, single primer extension (SPEX)-based approaches can genotype single nucleotide polymorphisms from ancient fragments of DNA as accurately as modern DNA. A single SPEX-type assay can amplify just one of the duplex DNA strands at target loci and generate a multi-fold depth-of-coverage, with non-authentic recombinant hybrids reduced to undetectable levels. Crucially, SPEX-type approaches can preferentially access genetic information from damaged and degraded endogenous ancient DNA templates over modern human DNA contaminants. The development of SPEX-type assays offers the potential for highly accurate, quantitative genotyping from ancient hominin samples.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkp897
PMCID: PMC2811011  PMID: 19864251
3.  A Multilocus Molecular Phylogeny of the Parrots (Psittaciformes): Support for a Gondwanan Origin during the Cretaceous 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2008;25(10):2141-2156.
The question of when modern birds (Neornithes) first diversified has generated much debate among avian systematists. Fossil evidence generally supports a Tertiary diversification, whereas estimates based on molecular dating favor an earlier diversification in the Cretaceous period. In this study, we used an alternate approach, the inference of historical biogeographic patterns, to test the hypothesis that the initial radiation of the Order Psittaciformes (the parrots and cockatoos) originated on the Gondwana supercontinent during the Cretaceous. We utilized broad taxonomic sampling (representatives of 69 of the 82 extant genera and 8 outgroup taxa) and multilocus molecular character sampling (3,941 bp from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genes cytochrome oxidase I and NADH dehydrogenase 2 and nuclear introns of rhodopsin intron 1, tropomyosin alpha-subunit intron 5, and transforming growth factor ß-2) to generate phylogenetic hypotheses for the Psittaciformes. Analyses of the combined character partitions using maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian criteria produced well-resolved and topologically similar trees in which the New Zealand taxa Strigops and Nestor (Psittacidae) were sister to all other psittaciforms and the cockatoo clade (Cacatuidae) was sister to a clade containing all remaining parrots (Psittacidae). Within this large clade of Psittacidae, some traditionally recognized tribes and subfamilies were monophyletic (e.g., Arini, Psittacini, and Loriinae), whereas several others were polyphyletic (e.g., Cyclopsittacini, Platycercini, Psittaculini, and Psittacinae). Ancestral area reconstructions using our Bayesian phylogenetic hypothesis and current distributions of genera supported the hypothesis of an Australasian origin for the Psittaciformes. Separate analyses of the timing of parrot diversification constructed with both Bayesian relaxed-clock and penalized likelihood approaches showed better agreement between geologic and diversification events in the chronograms based on a Cretaceous dating of the basal split within parrots than the chronograms based on a Tertiary dating of this split, although these data are more equivocal. Taken together, our results support a Cretaceous origin of Psittaciformes in Gondwana after the separation of Africa and the India/Madagascar block with subsequent diversification through both vicariance and dispersal. These well-resolved molecular phylogenies will be of value for comparative studies of behavior, ecology, and life history in parrots.
doi:10.1093/molbev/msn160
PMCID: PMC2727385  PMID: 18653733
Cretaceous origin; divergence times; Gondwanan distribution; K/T boundary; molecular phylogeny; parrot; Psittaciformes; Tertiary origin
4.  Decreased Rate of Evolution in Y Chromosome STR Loci of Increased Size of the Repeat Unit 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e7276.
Background
Polymorphic Y chromosome short tandem repeats (STRs) have been widely used in population genetic and evolutionary studies. Compared to di-, tri-, and tetranucleotide repeats, STRs with longer repeat units occur more rarely and are far less commonly used.
Principal Findings
In order to study the evolutionary dynamics of STRs according to repeat unit size, we analysed variation at 24 Y chromosome repeat loci: 1 tri-, 14 tetra-, 7 penta-, and 2 hexanucleotide loci. According to our results, penta- and hexanucleotide repeats have approximately two times lower repeat variance and diversity than tri- and tetranucleotide repeats, indicating that their mutation rate is about half of that of tri- and tetranucleotide repeats. Thus, STR markers with longer repeat units are more robust in distinguishing Y chromosome haplogroups and, in some cases, phylogenetic splits within established haplogroups.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that Y chromosome STRs of increased repeat unit size have a lower rate of evolution, which has significant relevance in population genetic and evolutionary studies.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007276
PMCID: PMC2748704  PMID: 19789645
5.  Genotyping human ancient mtDNA control and coding region polymorphisms with a multiplexed Single-Base-Extension assay: the singular maternal history of the Tyrolean Iceman 
BMC Genetics  2009;10:29.
Background
Progress in the field of human ancient DNA studies has been severely restricted due to the myriad sources of potential contamination, and because of the pronounced difficulty in identifying authentic results. Improving the robustness of human aDNA results is a necessary pre-requisite to vigorously testing hypotheses about human evolution in Europe, including possible admixture with Neanderthals. This study approaches the problem of distinguishing between authentic and contaminating sequences from common European mtDNA haplogroups by applying a multiplexed Single-Base-Extension assay, containing both control and coding region sites, to DNA extracted from the Tyrolean Iceman.
Results
The multiplex assay developed for this study was able to confirm that the Iceman's mtDNA belongs to a new European mtDNA clade with a very limited distribution amongst modern data sets. Controlled contamination experiments show that the correct results are returned by the multiplex assay even in the presence of substantial amounts of exogenous DNA. The overall level of discrimination achieved by targeting both control and coding region polymorphisms in a single reaction provides a methodology capable of dealing with most cases of homoplasy prevalent in European haplogroups.
Conclusion
The new genotyping results for the Iceman confirm the extreme fallibility of human aDNA studies in general, even when authenticated by independent replication. The sensitivity and accuracy of the multiplex Single-Base-Extension methodology forms part of an emerging suite of alternative techniques for the accurate retrieval of ancient DNA sequences from both anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals. The contamination of laboratories remains a pressing concern in aDNA studies, both in the pre and post-PCR environments, and the adoption of a forensic style assessment of a priori risks would significantly improve the credibility of results.
doi:10.1186/1471-2156-10-29
PMCID: PMC2717998  PMID: 19545382
6.  X-chromosome SNP analyses in 11 human Mediterranean populations show a high overall genetic homogeneity except in North-west Africans (Moroccans) 
Background
Due to its history, with a high number of migration events, the Mediterranean basin represents a challenging area for population genetic studies. A large number of genetic studies have been carried out in the Mediterranean area using different markers but no consensus has been reached on the genetic landscape of the Mediterranean populations. In order to further investigate the genetics of the human Mediterranean populations, we typed 894 individuals from 11 Mediterranean populations with 25 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) located on the X-chromosome.
Results
A high overall homogeneity was found among the Mediterranean populations except for the population from Morocco, which seemed to differ genetically from the rest of the populations in the Mediterranean area. A very low genetic distance was found between populations in the Middle East and most of the western part of the Mediterranean Sea.
A higher migration rate in females versus males was observed by comparing data from X-chromosome, mt-DNA and Y-chromosome SNPs both in the Mediterranean and a wider geographic area.
Multilocus association was observed among the 25 SNPs on the X-chromosome in the populations from Ibiza and Cosenza.
Conclusion
Our results support both the hypothesis of (1) a reduced impact of the Neolithic Wave and more recent migration movements in NW-Africa, and (2) the importance of the Strait of Gibraltar as a geographic barrier. In contrast, the high genetic homogeneity observed in the Mediterranean area could be interpreted as the result of the Neolithic wave caused by a large demic diffusion and/or more recent migration events. A differentiated contribution of males and females to the genetic landscape of the Mediterranean area was observed with a higher migration rate in females than in males. A certain level of background linkage disequilibrium in populations in Ibiza and Cosenza could be attributed to their demographic background.
doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-75
PMCID: PMC2315647  PMID: 18312628
7.  Novel high-resolution characterization of ancient DNA reveals C > U-type base modification events as the sole cause of post mortem miscoding lesions 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(17):5717-5728.
Ancient DNA (aDNA) research has long depended on the power of PCR to amplify trace amounts of surviving genetic material from preserved specimens. While PCR permits specific loci to be targeted and amplified, in many ways it can be intrinsically unsuited to damaged and degraded aDNA templates. PCR amplification of aDNA can produce highly-skewed distributions with significant contributions from miscoding lesion damage and non-authentic sequence artefacts. As traditional PCR-based approaches have been unable to fully resolve the molecular nature of aDNA damage over many years, we have developed a novel single primer extension (SPEX)-based approach to generate more accurate sequence information. SPEX targets selected template strands at defined loci and can generate a quantifiable redundancy of coverage; providing new insights into the molecular nature of aDNA damage and fragmentation. SPEX sequence data reveals inherent limitations in both traditional and metagenomic PCR-based approaches to aDNA, which can make current damage analyses and correct genotyping of ancient specimens problematic. In contrast to previous aDNA studies, SPEX provides strong quantitative evidence that C > U-type base modifications are the sole cause of authentic endogenous damage-derived miscoding lesions. This new approach could allow ancient specimens to be genotyped with unprecedented accuracy.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkm588
PMCID: PMC2034480  PMID: 17715147
8.  The Isolation of Nucleic Acids from Fixed, Paraffin-Embedded Tissues–Which Methods Are Useful When? 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(6):e537.
Museums and pathology collections around the world represent an archive of genetic material to study populations and diseases. For preservation purposes, a large portion of these collections has been fixed in formalin-containing solutions, a treatment that results in cross-linking of biomolecules. Cross-linking not only complicates isolation of nucleic acid but also introduces polymerase “blocks” during PCR. A wide variety of methods exists for the recovery of DNA and RNA from archival tissues, and although a number of previous studies have qualitatively compared the relative merits of the different techniques, very few have undertaken wide scale quantitative comparisons. To help address this issue, we have undertaken a study that investigates the quality of nucleic acids recovered from a test panel of fixed specimens that have been manipulated following a number of the published protocols. These include methods of pre-treating the samples prior to extraction, extraction and nucleic acid purification methods themselves, and a post-extraction enzymatic repair technique. We find that although many of the published methods have distinct positive effects on some characteristics of the nucleic acids, the benefits often come at a cost. In addition, a number of the previously published techniques appear to have no effect at all. Our findings recommend that the extraction methodology adopted should be chosen carefully. Here we provide a quick reference table that can be used to determine appropriate protocols for particular aims.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000537
PMCID: PMC1888728  PMID: 17579711
9.  Multiplexed SNP Typing of Ancient DNA Clarifies the Origin of Andaman mtDNA Haplogroups amongst South Asian Tribal Populations 
PLoS ONE  2006;1(1):e81.
The issue of errors in genetic data sets is of growing concern, particularly in population genetics where whole genome mtDNA sequence data is coming under increased scrutiny. Multiplexed PCR reactions, combined with SNP typing, are currently under-exploited in this context, but have the potential to genotype whole populations rapidly and accurately, significantly reducing the amount of errors appearing in published data sets. To show the sensitivity of this technique for screening mtDNA genomic sequence data, 20 historic samples of the enigmatic Andaman Islanders and 12 modern samples from three Indian tribal populations (Chenchu, Lambadi and Lodha) were genotyped for 20 coding region sites after provisional haplogroup assignment with control region sequences. The genotype data from the historic samples significantly revise the topologies for the Andaman M31 and M32 mtDNA lineages by rectifying conflicts in published data sets. The new Indian data extend the distribution of the M31a lineage to South Asia, challenging previous interpretations of mtDNA phylogeography. This genetic connection between the ancestors of the Andamanese and South Asian tribal groups ∼30 kya has important implications for the debate concerning migration routes and settlement patterns of humans leaving Africa during the late Pleistocene, and indicates the need for more detailed genotyping strategies. The methodology serves as a low-cost, high-throughput model for the production and authentication of data from modern or ancient DNA, and demonstrates the value of museum collections as important records of human genetic diversity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000081
PMCID: PMC1766372  PMID: 17218991

Results 1-9 (9)