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The origins of lactase persistence in Europe

Itan, Y.; Powell, A.; Beaumont, M.A.; Burger, J.; Thomas, M.G.; (2009) The origins of lactase persistence in Europe. PLoS Computational Biology , 5 (8) , Article e1000491. 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000491. Green and gold open access

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Abstract

Lactase persistence (LP) is common among people of European ancestry, but with the exception of some African, Middle Eastern and southern Asian groups, is rare or absent elsewhere in the world. Lactase gene haplotype conservation around a polymorphism strongly associated with LP in Europeans (213,910 C/T) indicates that the derived allele is recent in origin and has been subject to strong positive selection. Furthermore, ancient DNA work has shown that the 213,910*T (derived) allele was very rare or absent in early Neolithic central Europeans. It is unlikely that LP would provide a selective advantage without a supply of fresh milk, and this has lead to a gene-culture coevolutionary model where lactase persistence is only favoured in cultures practicing dairying, and dairying is more favoured in lactase persistent populations. We have developed a flexible demic computer simulation model to explore the spread of lactase persistence, dairying, other subsistence practices and unlinked genetic markers in Europe and western Asia’s geographic space. Using data on 213,910*T allele frequency and farming arrival dates across Europe, and approximate Bayesian computation to estimate parameters of interest, we infer that the 213,910*T allele first underwent selection among dairying farmers around 7,500 years ago in a region between the central Balkans and central Europe, possibly in association with the dissemination of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture over Central Europe. Furthermore, our results suggest that natural selection favouring a lactase persistence allele was not higher in northern latitudes through an increased requirement for dietary vitamin D. Our results provide a coherent and spatially explicit picture of the coevolution of lactase persistence and dairying in Europe.

Type:Article
Title:The origins of lactase persistence in Europe
Open access status:An open access publication. A version is also available from UCL Discovery.
DOI:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000491
Publisher version:http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000491
Language:English
Additional information:© 2009 Itan et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > CoMPLEX - Maths and Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology
UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Biosciences (Division of) > Genetics, Evolution and Environment

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