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From Adaptive to Not

By analyzing ancient and modern DNA samples from the Tsimshian people of North American, researchers have gotten a glimpse of how contact with Europeans and the diseases they carried affected native populations, the Guardian writes.

Researchers from the University of Illinois and elsewhere sequenced the exomes of ancient people from British Columbia and modern indigenous people from the region, as they reported in Nature Communications last month. Through this, the Guardian notes, that the researchers uncovered genetic evidence of a population bottleneck that occurred some 175 years ago, or about the time that the Tsimshian people experienced a smallpox epidemic.

The researchers also compared the immune genes of the ancient and modern individuals to find that there was strong selection on the HLA-DQA1 gene in the ancient population, but that that was not the case for the modern population.

"So although ancient Tsimshian populations were adapted to specific pathogens present in their environment, the introduction of new pathogens by European settlers meant that what was adaptive for one environment was suddenly maladaptive," the Guardian's Jennifer Raff writes. "The resulting population collapse, recorded in both historical documentation and the genetic legacy of contemporary Tsimshian descendants, was one of the tragic consequences."