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Ancient DNA reveals selection acting on genes associated with hypoxia response in pre-Columbian Peruvian Highlanders in the last 8500 years

  • Author(s): Fehren-Schmitz, L
  • Georges, L
  • et al.

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Archaeological evidence shows that humans began living in the high altitude Andes approximately 12,000 years ago. Andean highlanders are known to have developed the most complex societies of pre-Columbian South America despite challenges to their health and reproductive success resulting from chronic exposure to hypoxia. While the physiological adaptations to this environmental stressor are well studied in contemporary Andean highlanders, the molecular evolutionary processes associated with such adaptations remain unclear. We aim to better understand how humans managed to demographically establish in this harsh environment by addressing a central question: did exposure to hypoxia drive adaptation via natural selection within Andean populations or did an existing phenotype -characterized by reduced susceptibility to hypoxic stress-enable human settlement of the Andes? We genotyped three variable loci within the NOS3 and EGLN1 genes previously associated with adaptation to high altitude in 150 ancient human DNA samples from Peruvian high altitude and coastal low altitude sites in a time frame between ~8500-560 BP. We compare the data of 109 successful samples to forward simulations of genetic drift with natural selection and find that selection, rather than drift, explains the gradual frequency changes observed in the highland populations for two of the three SNPs.

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