Ancient DNA reveals genetic history of China

May 14, 2020

An analysis of 26 newly sequenced ancient genomes from across China helps to fill crucial gaps in the poorly known genetic history of East Asia, including to reveal one major episode of admixture. The results provide a detailed record of population ancestry spanning the Neolithic to modern times, revealing key events that contributed to the East Asian populations of today. The people of East Asia, a region that encompasses nearly one-quarter of the modern global population, are highly diverse and stem from a broad spectrum of ethnic and linguistic lineages spanning many thousands of years. However, despite East Asia long being home to humans, the genetic diversity of its ancestral people isn't well understood. According to the authors, most contemporary studies use genetic data from present-day populations to model East Asian ancestry, despite archeological findings indicating that populations were far more genetically diverse in the ancient past than today. However, due to a dearth of ancient DNA data from East Asia, characterizing these past populations and understanding how they've impacted those living there today has remained challenging. Melinda Yang and colleagues sequenced the genomes of 26 ancient individuals from across China who lived between 9,500 to 300 years ago. Analysis of these new data, along with previously sequenced ancient and present-day genomes from individuals worldwide, revealed a complex history of human movements into and throughout East Asia. According to Yang et al., the results show that genetic differentiation was indeed greater in the past than the present reflecting a distinct split between ancient populations in northern and southern China. While ancient northern Chinese are genetically closest to modern-day East Asians, ancient individuals from southern China show an affinity to modern Austronesian populations. The results evidence one major episode of admixture - during the Neolithic, northern populations spread southward, transforming southern China's Austronesian genetic ancestry, which gave rise to modern population genetics.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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