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Eur J Hum Genet. 2014 Oct;22(10):1201-7. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2014.2. Epub 2014 Feb 12.

Microsatellite data show recent demographic expansions in sedentary but not in nomadic human populations in Africa and Eurasia.

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Laboratoire d'Eco-Anthropologie et Ethnobiologie, UMR 7206, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique-Université Paris 7 Diderot, Paris, France.
Integrative Ecology Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC), Sevilla, Spain.
Academy of Sciences, Institute of Immunology, Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


The transition from hunting and gathering to plant and animal domestication was one of the most important cultural and technological revolutions in human history. According to archeologists and paleoanthropologists, this transition triggered major demographic expansions. However, few genetic studies have found traces of Neolithic expansions in the current repartition of genetic polymorphism, pointing rather toward Paleolithic expansions. Here, we used microsatellite autosomal data to investigate the past demographic history of 87 African and Eurasian human populations with contrasted lifestyles (nomadic hunter-gatherers, semi-nomadic herders and sedentary farmers). Likely due to the combination of a higher mutation rate and the possibility to analyze several loci as independent replicates of the coalescent process, the analysis of microsatellite data allowed us to infer more recent expansions than previous genetic studies, potentially resulting from the Neolithic transition. Despite the variability in their location and environment, we found consistent expansions for all sedentary farmers, while we inferred constant population sizes for all hunter-gatherers and most herders that could result from constraints linked to a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle and/or competition for land between herders and farmers. As an exception, we inferred expansions for Central Asian herders. This might be linked with the arid environment of this area that may have been more favorable to nomadic herders than to sedentary farmers. Alternatively, current Central Asian herders may descent from populations who have first experienced a transition from hunter-gathering to sedentary agropastoralism, and then a second transition to nomadic herding.

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