Archaic introgression in Pygmies

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Plant introductions evolution hybrid speciation and gene transfer 18 728We must remember that detecting archaic admixture in Africa is a statistical power game where only a particular type of such introgression can be detected:

First, it needs to be from highly diverged Palaeoafrican sources so that it will look very different from plain H. sapiensDNA. Unlike Eurasia, there's no genome of an ancient Palaeoafrican one can compare against. All inference is based on African genomes having an improbable amount of heterozygosity in parts of their genome.

Second, it needs to have happened recently enough so that it will come in big chunks that can be distinguished from the plain H. sapiens background. Given enough time, recombination breaks down archaic segments into ever tinier bits. You can argue that an unusually long divergent haplotype with a deep TMRCA is archaic, but you can't argue that a single SNP is.

I have little doubt that most if not all of the supposedly "old divergences" between African populations are a mirage created by admixture between modern humans and archaic "Palaeoafricans" diverging and admixing at different time depths. The palaeoanthropological record is quite clear that modern humans were not the only game in town for most of the 200 thousand years since modern humans first appeared in the continent's northeastern corner.

A handful or two of archaic genomes from Eurasia needs an ever-more-complex web of admixtures to make sense of; Africa will need no less, and -if morphological variability persistence is any criterion- a lot more.

Genome Research Published in Advance February 17, 2016, doi: 10.1101/gr.196634.115 

Model-based analyses of whole-genome data reveal a complex evolutionary history involving archaic introgression in Central African Pygmies 

PingHsun Hsieh et al. 

Comparisons of whole-genome sequences from ancient and contemporary samples have pointed to several instances of archaic admixture through interbreeding between the ancestors of modern non-Africans and now extinct hominids such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. One implication of these findings is that some adaptive features in contemporary humans may have entered the population via gene flow with archaic forms in Eurasia.Within Africa, fossil evidence suggests that anatomically modern humans (AMH) and various archaic forms coexisted for much of the last 200,000 yr; however, the absence of ancient DNA in Africa has limited our ability to make a direct comparison between archaic and modern human genomes. Here, we use statistical inference based on high coverage whole-genome data (greater than 60×) from contemporary African Pygmy hunter-gatherers as an alternative means to study the evolutionary history of the genus Homo. Using whole-genome simulations that consider demographic histories that include both isolation and gene flow with neighboring farming populations, our inference method rejects the hypothesis that the ancestors of AMH were genetically isolated in Africa, thus providing the first whole genome-level evidence of African archaic admixture. Our inferences also suggest a complex human evolutionary history in Africa, which involves at least a single admixture event from an unknown archaic population into the ancestors of AMH, likely within the last 30,000 yr.

Genome Research Published in Advance February 17, 2016, doi: 10.1101/gr.192971.115 

Whole-genome sequence analyses of Western Central African Pygmy hunter-gatherers reveal a complex demographic history and identify candidate genes under positive natural selection 

PingHsun Hsieh et al. 

African Pygmies practicing a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle are phenotypically and genetically diverged from other anatomically modern humans, and they likely experienced strong selective pressures due to their unique lifestyle in the Central African rainforest. To identify genomic targets of adaptation, we sequenced the genomes of four Biaka Pygmies from the Central African Republic and jointly analyzed these data with the genome sequences of three Baka Pygmies from Cameroon and nine Yoruba famers. To account for the complex demographic history of these populations that includes both isolation and gene flow, we fit models using the joint allele frequency spectrum and validated them using independent approaches. Our two best-fit models both suggest ancient divergence between the ancestors of the farmers and Pygmies, 90,000 or 150,000 yr ago. We also find that bidirectional asymmetric gene flow is statistically better supported than a single pulse of unidirectional gene flow from farmers to Pygmies, as previously suggested. We then applied complementary statistics to scan the genome for evidence of selective sweeps and polygenic selection. We found that conventional statistical outlier approaches were biased toward identifying candidates in regions of high mutation or low recombination rate. To avoid this bias, we assigned P-values for candidates using whole-genome simulations incorporating demography and variation in both recombination and mutation rates. We found that genes and gene sets involved in muscle development, bone synthesis, immunity, reproduction, cell signaling and development, and energy metabolism are likely to be targets of positive natural selection in Western African Pygmies or their recent ancestors.