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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Feb;28(2):889-98. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq265. Epub 2010 Oct 7.

Deep divergences of human gene trees and models of human origins.

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Laboratoire des Techniques de l'Ingénierie Médicale et de la Complexité (TIMC-IMAG), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Université Joseph Fourier (UJF), Grenoble, France.


Two competing hypotheses are at the forefront of the debate on modern human origins. In the first scenario, known as the recent Out-of-Africa hypothesis, modern humans arose in Africa about 100,000-200,000 years ago and spread throughout the world by replacing the local archaic human populations. By contrast, the second hypothesis posits substantial gene flow between archaic and emerging modern humans. In the last two decades, the young time estimates--between 100,000 and 200,000 years--of the most recent common ancestors for the mitochondrion and the Y chromosome provided evidence in favor of a recent African origin of modern humans. However, the presence of very old lineages for autosomal and X-linked genes has often been claimed to be incompatible with a simple, single origin of modern humans. Through the analysis of a public DNA sequence database, we find, similar to previous estimates, that the common ancestors of autosomal and X-linked genes are indeed very old, living, on average, respectively, 1,500,000 and 1,000,000 years ago. However, contrary to previous conclusions, we find that these deep gene genealogies are consistent with the Out-of-Africa scenario provided that the ancestral effective population size was approximately 14,000 individuals. We show that an ancient bottleneck in the Middle Pleistocene, possibly arising from an ancestral structured population, can reconcile the contradictory findings from the mitochondrion on the one hand, with the autosomes and the X chromosome on the other hand.

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