Our paper: The genetic prehistory of southern Africa

[This author post is by Joe Pickrell (@joe_pickrell), Nick Patterson, Mark Stoneking, David Reich, and Brigitte Pakendorf on The genetic prehistory of southern Africa, available from arXiv here]

The indigenous populations of southern Africa are phenotypically, linguistically, culturally, and genetically diverse. Although many groups speak Bantu languages (having arrived in the region during an expansion of Iron-Age agriculturalists), there are a number of populations who speak diverse non-Bantu languages with heavy use of click consonants. We refer to these populations as “Khoisan“. Most of the Khoisan populations are hunter-gatherers, but some are pastoralists; the extensive linguistic and cultural diversity of the Khoisan (who live in a relatively small region around the Kalahari semi-desert) is historically puzzling.

Two hunter-gatherer (or formerly hunter-gatherer) populations in East Africa, the Hadza and Sandawe, also speak languages that also make use of click consonants. Linguists see little in common between the languages in southern Africa and Hadza, although Sandawe might be genealogically related to some of the Khoisan languages. Nevertheless, the shared use of click consonants and a foraging lifestyle led many to hypothesize that the southern African Khoisan populations are genetically related to the Hadza and Sandawe, which would imply that their ancestors were once considerably more widespread. This hypothesis has been controversial for decades.

Tree relating the Khoisan-like proportion of ancestry (shown in blue in the barplot) in Khoisan, Hadza, and Sandawe after accounting for non-Khoisan admixture.

In our study, we use genetic data to address the history of the diverse groups within southern Africa and their relationship to the Hadza and Sandawe. Specifically, we genotyped individuals from 16 Khoisan populations, 5 neighboring populations that speak Bantu languages, and the Hadza (the latter thanks to Brenna Henn, Joanna Mountain, and Carlos Bustamante) on a SNP array designed for studies of human history, in that the SNP ascertainement scheme is known and includes SNPs ascertained in the Khoisan. We then merged in Hadza and Sandawe samples from a recent paper by Joseph Lachance, Sarah Tishkoff and colleagues. The main conclusions are as follows:

  1. Within the southern African Khoisan, there are two genetic groups, which correspond roughly to populations in the northwest and southeast Kalahari semi-desert. Populations from these two groups have been labeled in the tree in this post (see also Figure 1B in the preprint). We estimate that these two groups diverged within the last 30,000 years. However, this date should be taken as an upper bound due to point #2 below.
  2. All southern African Khoisan groups are admixed with non-Khoisan populations. Even the most isolated Khoisan groups (i.e. the “San” from the HGDP, who are included in the “Ju|’hoan_North” group in our paper) show some evidence of admixture with agricultualist and/or pastoralist groups. A subtle technical point is that this had not been previously noticed because methods that rely on correlations in allele frequencies are sometimes unable to detect admixture if all populations are admixed (this is related to Mr. Razib Khan’s post on why ADMIXTURE is not a test for admixure). To get around this, we developed new methods based on the decay of linkage disequilibrum.
  3. The Hadza and Sandawe trace part of their ancestry to admixture with a population related to the Khoisan. After accounting for admixture, we built a tree of “Khoisan-like” ancestry in the southern and eastern African populations (see the Figure above). The striking thing is that the Hadza and Sandawe fall with high confidence on the same branch as the Khoisan. This suggests that, prior to subsequent migrations of food-producing peoples over most of sub-Saharan Africa, populations related to the Khoisan were indeed spread continuously over a huge geographic range including Tanzania and southern Africa.

We’re excited about these results for a number of reasons. First of all, we’re now on our way towards understanding the history of the diverse Khoisan populations–for years these populations have been treated as genetically equivalent, but it’s clear that each population has its own complex history. Secondly, with the new statistical methods we’ve developed we were able to show not only the varying amounts of admixture that has occurred at different times in southern African populations, but were also able to peel away these layers of admixture to learn about the relationships among Khoisan populations that existed thousands of years ago. Finally, we think that these results have important implications for work using genetics to understand the geographic origin of modern humans within Africa. Though both southern and eastern Africa have been proposed as potential origins, from the tree in this post, we see no genetic evidence in favor of either; from our point of view this question remains open.

Joe Pickrell, Nick Patterson, Mark Stoneking, David Reich, and Brigitte Pakendorf


Thoughts on: The date of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans.

The following are my (Graham Coop, @graham_coop) brief thoughts on Sriram Sankararaman et al.’s arXived article: “The date of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans.”. You can read the authors’ guest post here, along with comments by Sriram and others.

Overall it’s a great article, so I thought I’d spend sometime talking about the interpretation of the results. Please feel free to comment, our main reason for doing these posts is to facilitate early discussion of preprints.

The authors analysis relies on measuring the correlation along the genome between alleles that may have been inherited from the putative admixture event [so called admixture. The idea being that if there was in fact no admixture and these alleles have just been inherited from the common ancestral population (>300kya) then these correlations should be very weak, as there has been plenty of time for recombination to break down the correlation between these markers. If there has been a single admixture event, the rate at which the correlation decays with the genetic distance between the markers is proportional to this admixture time [i.e. slower decay for a more recent event, as there is less time for recombination]. These ideas for testing for admixture have been around in the literature for sometime [e.g. Machado et al], its the application and genome-wide application that is novel.

As you can tell from the title and abstract of the paper, the authors find pretty robust evidence that this curve is decaying slower than we’d expect if there had been no gene flow, and estimate this “admixture time” to be 37k-86k years ago. However, as the authors are careful to note in their discussion, this is not a definitive answer to whether modern humans and Neandertals interbred, nor is this number a definite time of admixture. Obviously the biological implications of the admixture result will get a lot of discussion, so I thought I’d instead spend a moment on these caveats. [This post has run long, so I’ll only get to the 1st point in this post and perhaps return to write another post on this later].

Okay so did Neandertals actually mate with humans?

The difficulty [as briefly discussed by the authors] is that we cannot know for sure from this analysis that the time estimated is the time of gene flow from Neandertals, and not some [now extinct] population that is somewhat closer to Neandertals than any modern humans.

Consider the figure below. We would like to say that the cartoon history on the left is true, where gene flow has happened directly from Neandertals into some subset of humans. The difficulty is that the same decay curve could be generated by the scenario on the right, where gene flow has occurred from some other population that shares more of its population history with Neandertals than any current day human population does.

Why is this? Well allele frequency change that occurred in the red branch [e.g. due to genetic drift] means that the frequencies in population X and Neandertals are correlated. This means that when we ask questions about correlations along the genome between alleles shared between Neanderthals and humans, we are also asking questions about correlations along the genome between population X and modern humans. So under scenario B I think the rate of decay of the correlation calculated in the paper is a function only of the admixture time of population X with Europeans, and so there may have been no direct admixture from Neandertals into Eurasians*.

First thing is first, that doesn’t diminish how interesting the result is. If interpretation of the decay as a signal of admixture is correct, then it still means that Eurasians interbred with some ancient human population, which was closer to Neandertals than other modern humans. That seems pretty awesome, regardless of whether that population is Neanderthals or some yet undetermined group.

At this point you are likely saying: well we know that Neandertals existed as a [somewhat] separate population/species who are these population X you keep talking about and where are their remains? Population X could easily be a subset of what we call Neandertals, in which case you’ve been reading this all for no reason [if you only want to know if we interbred with Neandertals]. However, my view is that in the next decade of ancient human population history things are going to get really interesting. We have already seen this from the Denisovian papers [1,2], and the work of ancient admixture in Africa (e.g. Hammer et al. 2011, Lachance et al. 2012). We will likely discover a bunch of cryptic somewhat distinct ancient populations, that we’ve previously [rightly] grouped into a relatively small number of labels based on their morphology and timing in the fossil record. We are not going to have names for many of these groups, but with large amounts of genomic data [ancient and modern] we are going to find all sorts of population structure. The question then becomes not an issue of naming these populations, but understanding the divergence and population genetic relationship among them.

There’s a huge range of (likely more plausible) scenarios that are hybrids between A and B that I think would still give the same difficulties with interpretations. For example, ongoing low levels of gene flow from population X into the Ancestral “population” of modern humans, consistent with us calling population X modern humans [see Figure below, **]. But all of the scenarios likely involve some thing pretty interesting happening in the past 100,000 years, with some form of contact between Eurasians and a somewhat diverged population.

As I say, the authors to their credit take the time in the discussion to point out this caveat. I thought some clarification of why this is the case would be helpful. The tools to address this problem more thoroughly are under development by some of the authors on this paper [Patterson et al 2012] and others [Lawson et al.]. So these tools along with more sequencing of ancient remains will help clarify all of this. It is an exciting time for human population genomics!

* I think I’m right in saying that the intercept of the curve with zero is the only thing that changes between Fig 1A and Fig 1B.

** Note that in the case shown in Figure 2, I think Sriram et al are mostly dating the red arrow, not any of the earlier arrows. This is because they condition their subset of alleles to represent introgression into European and to be at low frequency in Africa. We would likely not be able to date the deeper admixture arrow into the ancestor on Eurasian/Africa using the authors approach, as [I think] it relies on having a relatively non-admixed population to use as a control.

Our paper: The date of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans

This post is by Sriram Sankararaman, Nick Patterson, Heng Li, Svante Pääbo, and David Reich on their paper The date of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans arXived here

The relationship between modern humans and archaic hominins such as Neandertals has been the subject of intense debate. The sequencing of a Neandertal genome, a couple of years back (Green et al, Science 2010), showed that Neandertals are more closely related to non-African genomes than African genomes. One possible model consistent with this observation is one involving gene flow from Neandertals to modern non-Africans after the divergence of African and non-African populations. Another model that can explain these observations is one in which the population ancestral to modern humans and Neandertals is structured e.g. imagine that the population ancestral to Neandertals and modern humans consists of three groups, A,B and C, where A,B and C represent the ancestors of modern Africans, non-Africans and Neandertals respectively. The extra proximity of Neandertals to non-Africans over Africans could occur if A and B, and B and C exchanged genes with each other followed by C diverging to form Neandertals, and A and B not completely hybridizing before their divergence to form Africans and non-Africans.

The Neandertal (Green et al, Science 2010) and the Denisova genome (Reich et al, Nature 2010) papers considered the possibility of both models — either scenario was shown to produce the skew in the observed D-statistics (a measure of the excess sharing of alleles across groups) that led to Neandertals appearing closer to non-Africans than Africans. Indeed, a recent paper by Eriksson and Manica (Eriksson and Manica, PNAS 2012) used an Approximate Bayesian Computation framework with D-statistics as the summary statistics and arrived at similar conclusions.

A paper from Monty Slatkin’s group (Yang et al, MBE 2012) attempted to differentiate the two scenarios by using the site frequency spectrum. Yang et al considered the site frequency spectrum in Europeans conditioned on observing a derived allele in Neandertal and an ancestral allele in Africans (termed the doubly-conditioned frequency spectrum, dcfs). They used theory and simulations to show that an ancient structure model produces a linear dcfs. On the other hand, they showed that recent gene flow can produce an excess of rare variants which matches the observed dcfs. Interestingly, they also observed that bottlenecks post gene flow had the effect of making the dcfs linear suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals could not have preceded strong bottlenecks in the non-African populations.

A different idea that we explored was to ask if patterns of linkage disequilibrium (LD) might discriminate the two scenarios. If we could pick out haplotypes that came into modern humans from Neandertal, recombination is expected to break these haplotypes down at a fixed rate every generation (assuming neutrality). Haplotypes that came in 1000 generations ago (under recent gene flow) should be expected to be 10 times longer on average than haplotypes that came in 10000 generations ago (under ancient structure). And if we could measure LD precisely enough, we could even date these ancient events. To date such ancient events, we had to address two technical challenges : i) measures of LD can be sensitive to demographic events, ii) for events that occurred 1000s of generations ago, we need to measure LD at size scales at which genetic maps can be quite noisy and this noise can bias estimates of dates.

Theory indicates that the expected LD (measured by Lewontin’s D), across SNPs that arose on the Nenadertal lineage and introgressed, decays exponentially with genetic distance at a rate given by the time of gene flow and is robust to demographic events. This result does not hold in practice due to imperfect ascertainment of these SNPs. We did simulations to show that this decay of LD does provide accurate estimates and can differentiate gene flow and ancient structure. We also came up with a model to assess errors in genetic maps which we then used to obtain a corrected date.

Our results support the recent gene flow scenario with a likely date of gene flow into the ancestors of modern Europeans 37000-86000 years BP although this does not exclude the possibility of ancient structure. A broader methodological question we are exploring is whether LD-based analyses might be generally applicable as a tool for dating other ancient gene flow events.

Sriram Sankararaman, Nick Patterson, Heng Li, Svante Pääbo, and David Reich

Our paper: Population genomics of sub-Saharan Drosophila melanogaster: African diversity and non-African admixture

[This author post is by John Pool on his paper: Population genomics of sub-Saharan Drosophila melanogaster: African diversity and non-African admixture arXived here.]

We are in the process of publishing this analysis of >100 sequenced Drosophila melanogaster genomes (largely haploid genomes at >25X depth).  These genomes come from more than 20 geographic locations, largely within sub-Saharan Africa, where the species is thought to originate.  Truth be told, this sampling scheme was somewhat accidental – we wanted to identify a population representing a “center of genetic diversity” for the species, which for us involved sequencing small numbers of genomes from many different population samples (some from previous lab stocks, others from newly collected lines).  Ultimately we did find the sample we were looking for, and we are in the process of sequencing ~300 genomes from this Zambian population.  Still, it seemed more than worthwhile to analyze the “geographic scatter” of genomes we had obtained from across sub-Saharan Africa (as well as one small sample from Europe).

Our ambitions for this paper were largely descriptive – a preliminary analysis of genetic variation within and among the sampled populations.  We envisioned being able to compare diversity levels and genetic structure across Africa (much as I once did with a dramatically smaller data set), and to identify specific loci with signatures of selection.  And we were able to do that.  We found the highest levels of genetic diversity in and around Zambia, raising the prospect of a southern-central African origin for D. melanogaster.  We found low-to-moderate levels of genetic structure across most of sub-Saharan Africa, with only Ethiopian populations showing stronger genetic differentiation (along with some morphological differentiation, but that’s another story).  Analyses of allele frequencies within and between populations revealed a substantial number of loci with evidence of recent natural selection – many GO categories enriched for such outliers pertained to gene regulation, much as we had observed in another recent population genomic analysis.

Of course that’s how we normally think of natural selection’s influence on genetic variation – specific beneficial mutations leading to selective sweeps (whether hard or soft, partial or complete), each one influencing diversity on a limited genomic scale.  And at least in
species with large outbreeding populations like Drosophila, recurrent hitchhiking may be common enough to affect diversity at random sites in the genome (e.g. 1, 2, 3).  So we weren’t surprised to find sweep signals.  The bigger surprise to us was finding evidence that specific episodes of natural selection had affected genetic variation on the scale of whole chromosome arms or the entire genome.

The first major surprise concerned genomic patterns of non-African admixture in African D. melanogaster populations.  The occurrence of such introgression had been documented before, and there were previous findings that non-African genotypes were associated with urban environments in Africa, and that admixture levels could vary within the genome. We developed a hidden Markov model approach to detect admixed chromosomal regions (based simply on the reduced diversity found in populations outside sub-Saharan Africa).  Whereas we tend to think of admixture as a selectively neutral force, the genomic patterns of admixture we observed did not seem consistent with passive gene flow.  Non-African genotypes had displaced large portions of the gene pool of presumably quite large African populations, and this had occurred within a very short time (judging by the megabase scale of admixture tracts).  Levels of admixture across the genome showed both broad-scale heterogeneity (chromosomal differences) and relatively narrow “spikes” of admixture.  These peaks of admixture quite often overlapped with outliers for high FST between Africa and Europe, as would be expected if these regions contained functional differences between populations for which introgressing non-African alleles may now be favored in some African environments (e.g. modernizing cities).  

The second surprise came as we documented population genetic patterns associated with polymorphic inversions (as further analyzed in a forthcoming paper by Russ Corbett-Detig and Dan Hartl).  It was already known that inversions tend to differ in frequency between D. melanogaster populations, but theory and most empirical data suggested that only diversity around the inversion breakpoints should be affected.  Instead, we observed some African populations in which elevated inversion frequencies were associated with notable reductions in diversity for entire chromosome arms (and ultimately affecting genome-wide average diversity), consistent with directional selection on rearrangements or linked loci.  Perhaps more surprisingly, mostinversions found in the non-African sample (France) served to substantially increase diversity across whole chromosome arms (by up to 29% in the case of inversions on arm 3R), and by 12% genome-wide.  Here, we can only suggest that selection may have acted to favor inverted chromosomes that recently originated from a more genetically diverse (e.g. African or African-admixed) population.  Accounting for these inversions substantially alters chromosomal diversity ratios between African and European populations.

Hence, we may have the curious situation of natural selection driving introgression in both directions across the sub-Saharan/cosmopolitan population genetic divide in D. melanogaster.

You can find our draft manuscript here, supplemental items here, and the data here.

 I’m definitely glad we were able to post a draft at arXiv – it was time to communicate our findings to the research community (especially to facilitate our colleagues’ analysis and publication plans for this data set), and there’s really no downside to us as authors.  I also appreciate the chance to post here at Haldane’s Sieve, and it would be great to discuss any aspect of our draft.

John Pool

The genetic prehistory of southern Africa

The genetic prehistory of southern Africa

Joseph K. Pickrell, Nick Patterson, Chiara Barbieri, Falko Berthold, Linda Gerlach, Mark Lipson, Po-Ru Loh, Tom Güldemann, Blesswell Kure, Sununguko Wata Mpoloka, Hirosi Nakagawa, Christfried Naumann, Joanna L. Mountain, Carlos D. Bustamante, Bonnie Berger, Brenna M. Henn, Mark Stoneking, David Reich, Brigitte Pakendorf
(Submitted on 23 Jul 2012)

The hunter-gatherer populations of southern and eastern Africa are known to harbor some of the most ancient human lineages, but their historical relationships are poorly understood. We report data from 22 populations analyzed at over half a million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), using a genome-wide array designed for studies of history. The southern Africans-here called Khoisan-fall into two groups, loosely corresponding to the northwestern and southeastern Kalahari, which we show separated within the last 30,000 years. All individuals derive at least a few percent of their genomes from admixture with non-Khoisan populations that began 1,200 years ago. In addition, the Hadza, an east African hunter-gatherer population that speaks a language with click consonants, derive about a quarter of their ancestry from admixture with a population related to the Khoisan, implying an ancient genetic link between southern and eastern Africa.

Inference of population splits and mixtures from genome-wide allele frequency data

Inference of population splits and mixtures from genome-wide allele frequency data

Joseph K. Pickrell, Jonathan K. Pritchard
(Submitted on 11 Jun 2012)

Many aspects of the historical relationships between populations in a species are reflected in genetic data. Inferring these relationships from genetic data, however, remains a challenging task. In this paper, we present a statistical model for inferring the patterns of population splits and mixtures in multiple populations. In this model, the sampled populations in a species are related to their common ancestor through a graph of ancestral populations. Using genome-wide allele frequency data and a Gaussian approximation to genetic drift, we infer the structure of this graph. We applied this method to a set of 55 human populations and a set of 82 dog breeds and wild canids. In both species, we show that a simple bifurcating tree does not fully describe the data; in contrast, we infer many migration events. While some of the migration events that we find have been detected previously, many have not. For example, in the human data we infer that Cambodians trace approximately 16% of their ancestry to a population ancestral to other extant East Asian populations. In the dog data, we infer that both the boxer and basenji trace a considerable fraction of their ancestry (9% and 25%, respectively) to wolves subsequent to domestication, and that East Asian toy breeds (the Shih Tzu and the Pekingese) result from admixture between modern toy breeds and “ancient” Asian breeds. Software implementing the model described here, called TreeMix, is available at this http URL

Population genomics of sub-Saharan Drosophila melanogaster: African diversity and non-African admixture

Population genomics of sub-Saharan Drosophila melanogaster: African diversity and non-African admixture
John E. Pool, Russell B. Corbett-Detig, Ryuichi P. Sugino, Kristian A. Stevens, Charis M. Cardeno, Marc W. Crepeau, Pablo Duchen, J. J. Emerson, Perot Saelao, David J. Begun, Charles H. Langley
(Submitted on 23 Aug 2012)

(ABRIDGED) We report the genome sequencing of 139 wild-derived strains of D. melanogaster, representing 22 population samples from the sub-Saharan ancestral range of this species, along with one European population. Most genomes were sequenced above 25X depth from haploid embryos. Results indicated a pervasive influence of non-African admixture in many African populations, motivating the development and application of a novel admixture detection method. Admixture proportions varied among populations, with greater admixture in urban locations. Admixture levels also varied across the genome, with localized peaks and valleys suggestive of a non-neutral introgression process. Genomes from the same location differed starkly in ancestry, suggesting that isolation mechanisms may exist within African populations. After removing putatively admixed genomic segments, the greatest genetic diversity was observed in southern Africa (e.g. Zambia), while diversity in other populations was largely consistent with a geographic expansion from this potentially ancestral region. The European population showed different levels of diversity reduction on each chromosome arm, and some African populations displayed chromosome arm-specific diversity reductions. Inversions in the European sample were associated with strong elevations in diversity across chromosome arms. Genomic scans were conducted to identify loci that may represent targets of positive selection. A disproportionate number of candidate selective sweep regions were located near genes with varied roles in gene regulation. Outliers for Europe-Africa FST were found to be enriched in genomic regions of locally elevated cosmopolitan admixture, possibly reflecting a role for some of these loci in driving the introgression of non-African alleles into African populations.

Our paper: The Genomic Signature of Crop-Wild Introgression in Maize

Our inaugural author post is by Matt Hufford and Jeff Ross-Ibarra [@lab_ri] on their paper:
The Genomic Signature of Crop-Wild Introgression in Maize ArXived here.

Evolutionary biologists have long been fascinated by introgressive hybridization. Numerous examples in which introgression has played an important evolutionary role are known, but genetic characterization has typically focused on only a handful of loci.

We took advantage of the recent development of inexpensive genotyping to address a long-standing question of introgression in maize evolution. Maize was domesticated in the warm low elevations of southwest Mexico, and likely colonized the highlands of central Mexico only thousands of years later. Maize is frequently cultivated in sympatry with its wild relatives the teosintes and is known to hybridize with them. Hybridization is especially common in the highlands, where maize and teosinte share several derived morphological features thought to be adaptive to high elevation.

We set out to discover the genomic extent of introgression in highland maize and teosinte populations and the degree to which this has been adaptive. We genotyped 9 sympatric population pairs of maize and teosinte at ~39,000 SNPs. We used two different algorithms (in the software STRUCTURE and HAPMIX) to model chromosomes as mosaics of maize and teosinte, and characterized regions of putative introgression. Surprisingly, we found shared regions of introgression across many populations and primarily only from teosinte into maize. To test whether this introgression may have facilitated maize adaptation to the highlands, we conducted a growth chamber experiment that revealed significant differences in putatively adaptive morphological traits between maize populations with and without introgression.

We submitted the paper to arXiv because this is a fast-moving area for empirical evolutionary genomics and we hoped to start the dialogue early on how to move forward with our results. We’d like feedback on the paper and specifically the following questions:

Are there recent advances in modeling admixture and introgression that we should apply?

Are our main findings surprising considering the putative history of maize diffusion?

Matt Hufford and Jeff Ross Ibarra