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Ancient teeth provide the key to Europe's genetic makeup



15 October 2013

The current genetic makeup of Europeans is the product of prehistoric events, such as migrations. However, which past events and how they have shaped modern European mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation remains intensely debated.

Dr Christina Adler is part of a study, recently published in the journal Science, which aims to address this question by using ancient human DNA from teeth. Teeth provide an ideal source of preserved genetic material. The DNA within the tooth is protected, being trapped within a calcified matrix, and the reduced porosity of teeth compared to bone makes them more resistant to contamination. This study presented a large-scale chronological study including 364 individuals from the Early Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age (5,500-1,550 cal BC). From these individuals, their teeth and bones were used as to create a detailed temporal mtDNA profile of prehistoric cultures in Europe. This genetic transect through time was used to identify four successive population events during the Neolithic era that led to the formation of modern European genetic diversity. In particular, the authors of this study were able to identify a key role of Late Neolithic cultures at the dawn of metallurgy and stratified societies in contributing to the current genetic makeup of Europeans.

Guido Brandt, Wolfgang Haak, Christina J. Adler, Christina Roth, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Sarah Karimnia, Sabine Möller-Rieker, Harald Meller, Robert Ganslmeier, Susanne Friederich, Veit Dresely, Nicole Nicklisch, Joseph K. Pickrell, Frank Sirocko, David Reich, Alan Cooper, Kurt W. Alt, and The Genographic Consortium. Ancient DNA Reveals Key Stages in the Formation of Central European Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity. Science, 2013: 342 (6155), 257-261.

Dr Christina Adler
Dr Christina Adler


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