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Mol Biol Evol. 2010 Apr;27(4):875-86. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp292. Epub 2009 Dec 2.

Inferring genealogical processes from patterns of Bronze-Age and modern DNA variation in Sardinia.

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Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Università di Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy.


The ancient inhabitants of a region are often regarded as ancestral, and hence genetically related, to the modern dwellers (for instance, in studies of admixture), but so far, this assumption has not been tested empirically using ancient DNA data. We studied mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in Sardinia, across a time span of 2,500 years, comparing 23 Bronze-Age (nuragic) mtDNA sequences with those of 254 modern individuals from two regions, Ogliastra (a likely genetic isolate) and Gallura, and considering the possible impact of gene flow from mainland Italy. To understand the genealogical relationships between past and present populations, we developed seven explicit demographic models; we tested whether these models can account for the levels and patterns of genetic diversity in the data and which one does it best. Extensive simulation based on a serial coalescent algorithm allowed us to compare the posterior probability of each model and estimate the relevant evolutionary (mutation and migration rates) and demographic (effective population sizes, times since population splits) parameters, by approximate Bayesian computations. We then validated the analyses by investigating how well parameters estimated from the simulated data can reproduce the observed data set. We show that a direct genealogical continuity between Bronze-Age Sardinians and the current people of Ogliastra, but not Gallura, has a much higher probability than any alternative scenarios and that genetic diversity in Gallura evolved largely independently, owing in part to gene flow from the mainland.

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