As readers of my posts here and at remote central will doubtless be aware, I tend not to write too much in the way of analysing genetic data as reported in the academic journals, but as I’m aware that there is a keen interest in this aspect of anthropology, I’ll probably adopt a policy of posting links and abstracts to recent papers I’d consider to be of interest to readers here. As time goes by it’s quite possible I’ll enter into more discussion, especially where more of the original text is available to comment upon. But for the time being, I’ll be following the examples of Mathilda’s Anthropology Blog and Dieneke’s Anthropology Blog, wherein such items are posted but not always commented upon in depth by the authors of the blogs, with most of the comment often coming from readers.

This time round, I’ve selected three posts that have appeared recently at The Spittoon, who make a point of lending an air of accessibility  to the general reader who might have difficulty extracting some of the more salient points from the data. In these three posts, only the linked abstracts are freely available, although in the future I’ll endeavour to include more in the way of papers that are free to access, from resources such as PLoS ONE.

Here are my choices from The Spittoon this time round:

People of the Veil: New Study Reveals Clues to Origins of the Nomadic Tuaregs, by AnneH, the abstract of which reads:

The Tuaregs are a semi-nomadic pastoralist people of northwest Africa. Their origins are still a matter of debate due to the scarcity of genetic and historical data. Here we report the first data on the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genetic characterization of a Tuareg sample from Fezzan (Libyan Sahara). A total of 129 individuals from two villages in the Acacus region were genetically analysed. Both the hypervariable regions and the coding region of mtDNA were investigated. Phylogeographic investigation was carried out in order to reconstruct human migratory shifts in central Sahara, and to shed light on the origin of the Libyan Tuaregs.

Our results clearly show low genetic diversity in the sample, possibly due to genetic drift and founder effect associated with the separation of Libyan Tuaregs from an ancestral population. Furthermore, the maternal genetic pool of the Libyan Tuaregs is characterized by a major „European” component shared with the Berbers that could be traced to the Iberian Peninsula, as well as a minor ‘south Saharan’ contribution possibly linked to both Eastern African and Near Eastern populations.

Reference: First Genetic Insight into Libyan Tuaregs: A Maternal Perspective, Claudio  Ottoni et al, Annals of Human Genetics, Volume 73 Issue 4, Pages 438 – 448  Published Online: 20 May 2009.

Next up, we have another post, also by AnneH, under the title ‘Ancient DNA Analysis Reveals Family Ties in Ruins of Pompeii’ , and for which this is the abstract:

Archaeological, anthropological and pathological data suggest that thirteen skeletons found in a house at the Pompeii archaeological site, dated to 79 A.D., belong to one family. To verify this and to identify the relationships between these individuals, we analyzed DNA extracted from bone specimens. Specifically, hypervariable segment 1 (HVS1) of the human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region was amplified in two overlapping polymerase chain reactions and the sequences were compared to the revised Cambridge Reference Sequence. As independent controls, other polymorphic sites in HVS1, HVS2 and in the coding region were analyzed. We also amplified some short tandem repeats of the thirteen specimens. This study revealed that six of the thirteen individuals are indeed closely related.

Reference: Ancient DNA and Family Relationships in a Pompeian House, by Giovanni  Di Bernardo et al, Annals of Human Genetics Volume 73 Issue 4, Pages 429 – 437  Published Online: 28 May 2009.

And to round off this post, ErinC discusses Malaria Has Driven Evolution In Humans And Baboons Alike, and here’s the abstract from Nature:

The ecology, behaviour and genetics of our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates, should help us to understand the evolution of our own lineage. Although a large amount of data has been amassed on primate ecology and behaviour, much less is known about the functional and evolutionary genetic aspects of primate biology, especially in wild primates. As a result, even in well-studied populations in which nongenetic factors that influence adaptively important characteristics have been identified, we have almost no understanding of the underlying genetic basis for such traits. Here, we report on the functional consequences of genetic variation at the malaria-related FY (DARC) gene in a well-studied population of yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus) living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. FY codes for a chemokine receptor normally expressed on the erythrocyte surface that is the known entry point for the malarial parasite Plasmodium vivax1, 2, 3.

We identified variation in the cis-regulatory region of the baboon FY gene that was associated with phenotypic variation in susceptibility to Hepatocystis, a malaria-like pathogen that is common in baboons4, 5. Genetic variation in this region also influenced gene expression in vivo in wild individuals, a result we confirmed using in vitro reporter gene assays. The patterns of genetic variation in and around this locus were also suggestive of non-neutral evolution, raising the possibility that the evolution of the FY cis-regulatory region in baboons has exhibited both mechanistic and selective parallels with the homologous region in humans6, 7, 8. Together, our results represent the first reported association and functional characterization linking genetic variation and a complex trait in a natural population of nonhuman primates.

Reference: Evolution of a Malaria Resistance Gene in Wild Primates, by Jenny Tung et al, Nature advance online publication 24 June 2009 | doi:10.1038/nature08149; Received 4 March 2009; Accepted 15 May 2009; Published online 24 June 2009