In this week's Science, a multi-institute team of researchers reports a study using DNA analysis to uncover the origins of farming. By sequencing DNA from four skeletons from the early Neolithic period in Iran's Zagros region — the site of some of the oldest evidence for farming — the team discovered a previously uncharacterized population distinct from the Neolithic Anatolians believed to be the likely ancestors of European farmers. This finding suggests that these Zargos-based farmers, who are genetically similar to modern-day Pakistani and Afghan populations, weren't the ancestors to the first farmers in Europe, but instead split from ancient Neolithic Anatolians more than 40,000 years ago. Taken together, the findings indicate that farming culture in Europe was influenced by more than one population from the Fertile Crescent during the Neolithic period.
And in Science Translational Medicine, a Harvard University-led team presents data showing that the most common genetic mutation found in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis causes lethal autoimmunity in mice, adding to the growing body of evidence linking the immune system to the neurodegenerative disease. The researchers focused on a gene called C9ORF72, which is commonly mutated in ALS patients, but whose function remains unknown. They found that mice with loss-of-function mutations in the gene developed severe and often fatal autoimmune disease, including chronic inflammation, enlarged spleens, and platelet deficiency. Transplantation of bone marrow from these mice caused similar symptoms in normal mice, which transplantation of normal bone marrow into the loss-of-function animals improved their condition.