I am a scientist specialized in genetics and cell metabolism.
Genetics show that our species bred with other hominins with outcomes that are still visible today.
In 10 seconds? As Homo sapiens left Africa and dispersed throughout the world they encountered and interbred with other human species, today extinct. These hybridization events may have boosted our evolution and the issue of these encounters is still visible in our DNA.
Don’t believe it? Genetic studies have shown that modern humans met, and even mixed, with other human species that inhabited different regions of the globe. Namely, with Neanderthals in Europe and Asia; Denisovans in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia; Heidelbergensis in Africa; and possibly Floresiensis in Indonesia.
How were those other human species? Neanderthals were stronger than Homo sapiens, had bigger cranial capacities, so probably bigger brains, made stone tools, used fire and it seems they even self-medicated. Denisovans were probably as robust as Neanderthals, but not much is known about their morphology. On the other hand, Heidelbergensis were taller than Neanderthals but had smaller brains, and Homo floresiensis, also referred to as hobbits, were much smaller (about 3.5 feet) and had small brains.
And how did these encounters boost our evolution? Recent results suggest that hybridization between Homo sapiens and other human species may have enabled adaptation to out-of-Africa environments, by providing an important reservoir of advantageous alleles and allowing a faster rate of adaptation than with mutation and selection alone. For instance, it has increased the diversity of the immune repertoire of contemporary Europeans, affecting preferentially responses to viral challenges.
Abstract: Although the diminutive Homo floresiensis has been known for a decade, its phylogenetic status remains highly contentious. A broad range of potential explanations for the evolution of this species has been explored. One view is that H. floresiensis is derived from Asian Homo erectus that arrived on Flores and subsequently evolved a smaller body size, perhaps to survive the constrained resources they faced in a new island environment. Fossil remains of H. erectus, well known from Java, have not yet been discovered on Flores. The second hypothesis is that H. floresiensis is directly descended from an early Homo lineage with roots in Africa, such as Homo habilis; the third is that it is Homo sapiens with pathology. We use parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test these hypotheses. Our phylogenetic data build upon those characters previously presented in support of these hypotheses by broadening the range of traits to include the crania, mandibles, dentition, and postcrania of Homo and Australopithecus. The new data and analyses support the hypothesis that H. floresiensis is an early Homo lineage: H. floresiensis is sister either to H. habilis alone or to a clade consisting of at least H. habilis, H. erectus, Homo ergaster, and H. sapiens. A close phylogenetic relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus or H. sapiens can be rejected; furthermore, most of the traits separating H. floresiensis from H. sapiens are not readily attributable to pathology (e.g., Down syndrome). The results suggest H. floresiensis is a long-surviving relict of an early (>1.75 Ma) hominin lineage and a hitherto unknown migration out of Africa, and not a recent derivative of either H. erectus or H. sapiens.
Pub.: 26 Apr '17, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Recent genomic data have revealed multiple interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans, but there is currently little genetic evidence regarding Neanderthal behaviour, diet, or disease. Here we describe the shotgun-sequencing of ancient DNA from five specimens of Neanderthal calcified dental plaque (calculus) and the characterization of regional differences in Neanderthal ecology. At Spy cave, Belgium, Neanderthal diet was heavily meat based and included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep (mouflon), characteristic of a steppe environment. In contrast, no meat was detected in the diet of Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, Spain, and dietary components of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss reflected forest gathering. Differences in diet were also linked to an overall shift in the oral bacterial community (microbiota) and suggested that meat consumption contributed to substantial variation within Neanderthal microbiota. Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen (Enterocytozoon bieneusi). Metagenomic data from this individual also contained a nearly complete genome of the archaeal commensal Methanobrevibacter oralis (10.2× depth of coverage)-the oldest draft microbial genome generated to date, at around 48,000 years old. DNA preserved within dental calculus represents a notable source of information about the behaviour and health of ancient hominin specimens, as well as a unique system that is useful for the study of long-term microbial evolution.
Pub.: 09 Mar '17, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Regulatory variation influencing gene expression is a key contributor to phenotypic diversity, both within and between species. Unfortunately, RNA degrades too rapidly to be recovered from fossil remains, limiting functional genomic insights about our extinct hominin relatives. Many Neanderthal sequences survive in modern humans due to ancient hybridization, providing an opportunity to assess their contributions to transcriptional variation and to test hypotheses about regulatory evolution. We developed a flexible Bayesian statistical approach to quantify allele-specific expression (ASE) in complex RNA-seq datasets. We identified widespread expression differences between Neanderthal and modern human alleles, indicating pervasive cis-regulatory impacts of introgression. Brain regions and testes exhibited significant downregulation of Neanderthal alleles relative to other tissues, consistent with natural selection influencing the tissue-specific regulatory landscape. Our study demonstrates that Neanderthal-inherited sequences are not silent remnants of ancient interbreeding but have measurable impacts on gene expression that contribute to variation in modern human phenotypes.
Pub.: 25 Feb '17, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Comparisons of DNA from archaic and modern humans show that these groups interbred, and in some cases received an evolutionary advantage from doing so. This process - adaptive introgression - may lead to a faster rate of adaptation than is predicted from models with mutation and selection alone. Within the last couple of years, a series of studies have identified regions of the genome that are likely examples of adaptive introgression. In many cases, once a region was ascertained as being introgressed, commonly used statistics based on both haplotype as well as allele frequency information were employed to test for positive selection. Introgression by itself, however, changes both the haplotype structure and the distribution of allele frequencies, thus confounding traditional tests for detecting positive selection. Therefore, patterns generated by introgression alone may lead to false inferences of positive selection. Here we explore models involving both introgression and positive selection to investigate the behavior of various statistics under adaptive introgression. In particular, we find that the number and allelic frequencies of sites that are uniquely shared between archaic humans and specific present-day populations are particularly useful for detecting adaptive introgression. We then examine the 1000 Genomes dataset to characterize the landscape of uniquely shared archaic alleles in human populations. Finally, we identify regions that were likely subject to adaptive introgression and discuss some of the most promising candidate genes located in these regions.
Pub.: 21 Oct '16, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Humans differ in the outcome that follows exposure to life-threatening pathogens, yet the extent of population differences in immune responses and their genetic and evolutionary determinants remain undefined. Here, we characterized, using RNA sequencing, the transcriptional response of primary monocytes from Africans and Europeans to bacterial and viral stimuli-ligands activating Toll-like receptor pathways (TLR1/2, TLR4, and TLR7/8) and influenza virus-and mapped expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs). We identify numerous cis-eQTLs that contribute to the marked differences in immune responses detected within and between populations and a strong trans-eQTL hotspot at TLR1 that decreases expression of pro-inflammatory genes in Europeans only. We find that immune-responsive regulatory variants are enriched in population-specific signals of natural selection and show that admixture with Neandertals introduced regulatory variants into European genomes, affecting preferentially responses to viral challenges. Together, our study uncovers evolutionarily important determinants of differences in host immune responsiveness between human populations.
Pub.: 22 Oct '16, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: As modern humans dispersed from Africa throughout the world, they encountered and interbred with archaic hominins, including Neanderthals and Denisovans [1 and 2]. Although genome-scale maps of introgressed sequences have been constructed [3, 4, 5 and 6], considerable gaps in knowledge remain about the functional, phenotypic, and evolutionary significance of archaic hominin DNA that persists in present-day individuals. Here, we describe a comprehensive set of analyses that identified 126 high-frequency archaic haplotypes as putative targets of adaptive introgression in geographically diverse populations. These loci are enriched for immune-related genes (such as OAS1/2/3, TLR1/6/10, and TNFAIP3) and also encompass genes (including OCA2 and BNC2) that influence skin pigmentation phenotypes. Furthermore, we leveraged existing and novel large-scale gene expression datasets to show many positively selected archaic haplotypes act as expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs), suggesting that modulation of transcript abundance was a common mechanism facilitating adaptive introgression. Our results demonstrate that hybridization between modern and archaic hominins provided an important reservoir of advantageous alleles that enabled adaptation to out-of-Africa environments.
Pub.: 10 Nov '16, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Hybridization between humans and Neanderthals has resulted in a low level of Neanderthal ancestry scattered across the genomes of many modern-day humans. After hybridization, on average, selection appears to have removed Neanderthal alleles from the human population. Quantifying the strength and causes of this selection against Neanderthal ancestry is key to understanding our relationship to Neanderthals and, more broadly, how populations remain distinct after secondary contact. Here, we develop a novel method for estimating the genome-wide average strength of selection and the density of selected sites using estimates of Neanderthal allele frequency along the genomes of modern-day humans. We confirm that East Asians had somewhat higher initial levels of Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans even after accounting for selection. We find that the bulk of purifying selection against Neanderthal ancestry is best understood as acting on many weakly deleterious alleles. We propose that the majority of these alleles were effectively neutral-and segregating at high frequency-in Neanderthals, but became selected against after entering human populations of much larger effective size. While individually of small effect, these alleles potentially imposed a heavy genetic load on the early-generation human-Neanderthal hybrids. This work suggests that differences in effective population size may play a far more important role in shaping levels of introgression than previously thought.
Pub.: 09 Nov '16, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Mitochondrial Eve confirms the "out of Africa" theory, but the evidence also supports interbreeding between Homo sapiens and other hominins: Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo heidelbergensis. This article explains how interbreeding between early H. sapiens and archaic hominins occurred. The availability of edible insects in East Asia aided the spread of the unaggressive, highly cooperative Neanderthals, who interbred with H. sapiens in Asia, resulting in a higher admixture of Neanderthal DNA in East Asian populations. Geographical variation in degree of interbreeding between H. sapiens and Neanderthals likely contributed to neurological and behavioral differences in modern humans. Similarly, people with Denisovan genetic admixture were better able to dwell in mountainous regions, allowing their genetic legacy to cross the Himalayas and persist in Southeast Asian and Oceanian H. sapiens. In the Sub-Saharan region, unaffected by Denisovan or Neanderthal interbreeding, H. sapiens interbred with H. heidelbergensis, because high humidity militated against fire-making and allowed the survival of these non-fire-making hominins.
Pub.: 19 Jul '16, Pinned: 09 May '17
Abstract: Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia)1, 2, 3, has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts2, 3, 4 and remains of other extinct endemic fauna5, 6, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago2, 3, 7. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago8, 9, 10. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. bp), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13–11 kyr cal. bp)1, 2, 3, 7, 11. Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago—potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans12, 13—is an open question.
Pub.: 30 Mar '16, Pinned: 09 May '17