Population variation following the Neolithic revolution: assessing the palaeogenetics of southern Europeans throughout the Neolithic

PhD Candidate: Daniel Fernandes
Supervisor: Professor Ron Pinhasi
Funded By: Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship

Abstract

The evolution of human societies has been shaped by successive migration waves. One of the most important was the Neolithic expansion of farming societies, spreading culture and genes from the Fertile Crescent into the rest of Eurasia. This set the end of hunter-gatherer cultures and, although there is a debate on whether this happened by active replacement or cultural diffusion, it is evident that the genetic background of European populations changed substantially after the Neolithic expansion (Pinhasi et al., 2012). Southern Europe seems to have played a very important role in the Neolithic period as its people might have migrated and expanded to the rest of Europe (Skoglund et al., 2012). This project will apply Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) methods to the analysis of human ancient DNA (aDNA) of Neolithic southern European skeletal samples with the aim to shed light on their genetic variation over time. A particular focus is placed on revealing which part of the Neolithic and which particular geographic region in southern Europe made the most substantial genetic contribution to present day European genetic diversity by comparing the obtained aDNA to available genomic scale reference data. Another focus will be the assessment of dispersal and admixture patterns between southern European and the ancient European samples currently analysed as part of Pinhasi’s ERC project. The genetic markers analysed will include full mitochondrial genomes, Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNPs) and the targeting of specific genes associated with pigmentation, digestion, and lactase tolerance. With this project, we hope we will be able to increase the amount of information available on the population dynamics of the Neolithic period and the impact they had on modern-day European genomic diversity.