Ancient Siberian genome reveals genetic origins of Native Americans

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Posted November 21, 2013
Ancient Siberian genome reveals genetic origins of Native Americans
Burial of Mal’ta child redrawn from Gerasimov (1935), with photos of the plaque and swan from the burial and a representative Venus figurine from the excavation. Credit: Kelly E Graf
The genome sequence of a 24,000-year-old Siberian individual has provided a key piece of the puzzle in the quest for Native American origins. The ancient Siberian demonstrates genomic signatures that are basal to present-day western Eurasians and close to modern Native Americans. This surprising finding has great consequences for our understanding of how and from where ancestral Native Americans descended, and also of the genetic landscape of Eurasia 24,000 years ago. The breakthrough is reported in this week’s Nature (Advance Online Publication) by an international team of scientists, led by the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark (University of Copenhagen).

The search for Native American ancestors has been focused in northeastern Eurasia. In late 2009, researchers sampled at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg the remains of a juvenile individual (MA-1) from the Upper Palaeolithic site of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia. The MA-1 individual dated to approximately 24,000 years ago. Now, the team reports genomic results from the MA-1 individual which unravel the origins of the First Americans – ancestors of modern-day Native Americans.

“Representing the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported thus far, the MA-1 individual has provided us with a unique window into the genetic landscape of Siberia some 24,000 years ago”, says Dr. Maanasa Raghavan from the Centre for GeoGenetics and one of the lead authors of the study. “Interestingly, the MA-1 individual shows little to no genetic affinity to modern populations from the region from where he originated – south Siberia.”

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