The team was composed of scientists from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), the University of Mainz in Germany and the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. They used DNA extracted from bone and teeth samples from prehistoric human skeletons to sequence a group of maternal genetic lineages that are now carried by up to 45 percent of Europeans.
Researchers wrote in the journal Nature Communications they have reconstructed the genetic history of modern Europe.
Decades of study of the DNA patterns of modern Europeans suggests two major events in prehistory significantly affected the continent´s genetic landscape: its initial peopling by hunter-gatherers in Palaeolithic times (35,000 years ago) and a wave of migration by Near Eastern farmers some 6,000 years ago. (in the early Neolithic)
But the extent to which present-day people are descended from the indigenous hunters versus the newcomers that arrived in the Neolithic has been a matter of some debate.
The genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don´t know why”
Analysis of DNA from ancient remains in Central and Northern Europe appears to show that the genetic legacy of the hunter-gatherers was all but erased by later migrations, including pioneer Neolithic farmers but possibly by later waves of people too. Still others caution that more samples are needed, and suggest that this picture might not be true for all regions of the continent.
The latest paper reveals that events some time after the initial migration of farmers into Europe did indeed have a major impact on the modern gene pool.
In the study, an international team of researchers focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the information in the cell´s "batteries". This type of DNA is passed down, almost unchanged from a mother to her children.
The reasons for the population change are unknown, but researchers view the challenge as an avenue for future exploration and discovery. “Something major happened, and the hunt is now on to find out what that was,” said Cooper.