In this week's Nature, researchers from the University of Tubingen report on genomic data linking marine mammals to the emergence of human tuberculosis in the Americas. The scientists analyzed the genomes of three ancient Mycobacterium tuberculosis specimens collected from human remains in Peru and found them to be distinct from modern-day human forms, but very similar to those adapted to seals and sea lions. The team speculates that the animals may have acquired the disease from hosts in Africa during the Holocene and transmitted the disease to human populations in North and South America. GenomeWeb Daily News has more on this study here.
Meanwhile, in Nature Communications, a team from Harvard Medical School and elsewhere describe their use of genetic data to reconstruct the population history of Austronesian-speaking people of Island Southeast Asia, finding that they are more closely related to aboriginal Taiwanese people than modern-day Southeast Asians. By analyzing genome-wide genetic markers from individuals across 56 populations from Island Southeast Asia, the researchers found that the genetic foundation of these individuals can be attributed to four discrete sources, including aboriginal Taiwanese, Thai, and New Guinean populations. A large proportion of this genetic component can be traced back to Taiwan, but Western Austronesians were shown to have a strong Austro-Asiatic component. The findings indicate that Austronesian speakers may have migrated through Vietnam or the Malaysian peninsula before settling in Western Indonesia.