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Ancient Siberian Genomes Point to Interconnected Populations, Gene Flow From Native Americans

NEW YORK – An international research team led by investigators in Germany has retraced human ancestry and interaction patterns in North Asia and Siberia over thousands of years, uncovering extensive population interactions as well as evidence of migrations back from North America after the initial Bering Sea crossing.

"Our findings highlight largely interconnected population dynamics throughout North Asia from the Early Holocene onward," senior and co-corresponding author Cosimo Posth, a researcher affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and University of Tübingen, and his colleagues wrote.

As they reported in Current Biology on Thursday, the researchers used targeted capture enrichment and sequencing to profile 10 ancient individuals going back some 7,500 years at Altai-Sayan, Russian Far East, and Kamchatka Peninsula sites in Siberia and Asia.

With sequence data spanning more than 1.2 million SNPs across the genome, for example, the team unearthed a combination of paleo-Siberian and ancient North Eurasian ancestry in Neolithic Altai hunter-gatherers from 5,500 to 7,500 years ago that appeared to coincide with ancestry that later turned up in Lake Baikal hunter-gatherers, Okunevo-associated pastoralists, and other Bronze Age populations found in northern and central Asia.

"We describe a previously unknown hunter-gatherer population in the Altai as early as 7,500 years old, which is a mixture between two distinct groups that lived in Siberia during the last Ice Age," Posth said in a statement, noting that the results suggest that the Altai hunter-gatherer group "contributed to many contemporaneous and subsequent populations across North Asia, showing how great the mobility of those foraging communities was."

The researchers also identified ancient North Eurasian ancestry in a 6,500-year-old individual from the Nizhnetytkesken Cave in the Altai-Sayan region, despite the presence of distinct archaeological, cultural, and religious items accompanying that Neolithic individual — results that appeared to reflect widespread movement of ancient North Eurasian groups and extensive interconnections across Asia and Siberia.

"It is not clear if the Nizhnetytkesken individual came from far away or the population from which he derived was located close by," first author Ke Wang, an archaeogenetics researcher affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Fudan University's anthropology and human genetics department, said in a statement. "However, his grave goods appear different than other local archaeological contexts implying mobility of both culturally and genetically diverse individuals into the Altai region."

To the east, meanwhile, the team documented Jomon-related ancestry resembling that found in Japanese hunter-gatherers in ancient individuals dated at roughly 7,000 years old, consistent with migrations that linked the Japanese Archipelago with the Russian Far East.

Finally, the investigators found evidence of westward migrations by individuals with Native American-related ancestry into northeastern Siberia within the last 5,000 years, particularly into what is now the Kamchatka Peninsula and central Siberia.

Together, the results "uncovered complex population movements of hunter-gatherer groups across North Asia from the Early Holocene onward," the authors explained, adding that "the gene pool of present-day Kamchatkan populations was shaped by a prolonged period of Native American-related gene flow over multiple millennia."

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