Genetic evidence for archaic admixture in Africa
A long-debated question concerns the fate of archaic forms of the genus Homo: did they go extinct without interbreeding with anatomically modern humans, or are their genes present in contemporary populations? This question is typically focused on the genetic contribution of archaic forms outside of Africa. Here we use DNA sequence data gathered from 61 noncoding autosomal regions in a sample of three sub-Saharan African populations (Mandenka, Biaka, and San) to test models of African archaic admixture. We use two complementary approximate-likelihood approaches and a model of human evolution that involves recent population structure, with and without gene flow from an archaic population. Extensive simulation results reject the null model of no admixture and allow us to infer that contemporary African populations contain a small proportion of genetic material (≈2%) that introgressed ≈35 kya from an archaic population that split from the ancestors of anatomically modern humans ≈700 kya. Three candidate regions showing deep haplotype divergence, unusual patterns of linkage disequilibrium, and small basal clade size are identified and the distributions of introgressive haplotypes surveyed in a sample of populations from across sub-Saharan Africa. One candidate locus with an unusual segment of DNA that extends for >31 kb on chromosome 4 seems to have introgressed into modern Africans from a now-extinct taxon that may have lived in central Africa. Taken together our results suggest that polymorphisms present in extant populations introgressed via relatively recent interbreeding with hominin forms that diverged from the ancestors of modern humans in the Lower-Middle Pleistocene.
Archaic human genomics
For much of the 20th century, the predominant view of human evolutionary history was derived from the fossil record. Homo erectus was seen arising in Africa from an earlier member of the genus and then spreading throughout the Old World and into the Oceania. A regional continuity model of anagenetic change from H. erectus via various intermediate archaic species into the modern humans in each of the regions inhabited by H. erectus was labeled the multiregional model of human evolution (MRE). A contrasting model positing a single origin, in Africa, of anatomically modern H. sapiens with some populations later migrating out of Africa and replacing the local archaic populations throughout the world with complete replacement became known as the recent African origin (RAO) model. Proponents of both models used different interpretations of the fossil record to bolster their views for decades. In the 1980s, molecular genetic techniques began providing evidence from modern human variation that allowed not only the different models of modern human origins to be tested but also the exploration demographic history and the types of selection that different regions of the genome and even specific traits had undergone. The majority of researchers interpreted these data as strongly supporting the RAO model, especially analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Extrapolating backward from modern patterns of variation and using various calibration points and substitution rates, a consensus arose that saw modern humans evolving from an African population around 200,000 years ago. Much later, around 50,000 years ago, a subset of this population migrated out of Africa replacing Neanderthals in Europe and western Asia as well as archaics in eastern Asia and Oceania. mtDNA sequences from more than two-dozen Neanderthals and early modern humans re-enforced this consensus. In 2010, however, the complete draft genomes of Neanderthals and of heretofore unknown hominins from Siberia, called Denisovans, demonstrated gene flow between these archaic human species and modern Eurasians but not sub-Saharan Africans. Although the levels of gene flow may be very limited, this unexpected finding does not fit well with either the RAO model or MRE model. More thorough sampling of modern human diversity, additional fossil discoveries, and the sequencing of additional hominin fossils are necessary to throw light onto our origins and our history.
Haplotypes spanning centromeric regions reveal persistence of large blocks of archaic DNA
Despite critical roles in chromosome segregation and disease, the repetitive structure and vast size of centromeres and their surrounding heterochromatic regions impede studies of genomic variation. Here we report the identification of large-scale haplotypes (cenhaps) in humans that span the centromere-proximal regions of all metacentric chromosomes, including the arrays of highly repeated α-satellites on which centromeres form. Cenhaps reveal deep diversity, including entire introgressed Neanderthal centromeres and equally ancient lineages among Africans. These centromere-spanning haplotypes contain variants, including large differences in α-satellite DNA content, which may influence the fidelity and bias of chromosome transmission. The discovery of cenhaps creates new opportunities to investigate their contribution to phenotypic variation, especially in meiosis and mitosis, as well as to more incisively model the unexpectedly rich evolution of these challenging genomic regions.
A global reference for human genetic variation
The 1000 Genomes Project set out to provide a comprehensive description of common human genetic variation by applying whole-genome sequencing to a diverse set of individuals from multiple populations. Here we report completion of the project, having reconstructed the genomes of 2,504 individuals from 26 populations using a combination of low-coverage whole-genome sequencing, deep exome sequencing, and dense microarray genotyping. We characterized a broad spectrum of genetic variation, in total over 88 million variants (84.7 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), 3.6 million short insertions/deletions (indels), and 60,000 structural variants), all phased onto high-quality haplotypes. This resource includes >99% of SNP variants with a frequency of >1% for a variety of ancestries. We describe the distribution of genetic variation across the global sample, and discuss the implications for common disease studies.