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Ancient genomes from Iceland reveal the making of a human population

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Science  01 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 1028-1032
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2625

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Founder effects in modern populations

The genomes of ancient humans can reveal patterns of early human migration (see the Perspective by Achilli et al.). Iceland has a genetically distinct population, despite relatively recent settlement (∼1100 years ago). Ebenesersdóttir et al. examined the genomes of ancient Icelandic people, dating to near the colonization of Iceland, and compared them with modernday Icelandic populations. The ancient DNA revealed that the founders had Gaelic and Norse origins. Genetic drift since the initial settlement has left modern Icelanders with allele frequencies that are distinctive, although still skewed toward those of their Norse founders. Scheib et al. sequenced ancient genomes from the Channel Islands of California, USA, and Ontario, Canada. The ancient Ontario population was similar to other ancient North Americans, as well as to modern Algonquian-speaking Native Americans. In contrast, the California individuals were more like groups that now live in Mexico and South America. It appears that a genetic split and population isolation likely occurred during the Ice Age, but the peoples remixed at a later date.

Science, this issue p. 1028, p. 1024; see also p. 964

Abstract

Opportunities to directly study the founding of a human population and its subsequent evolutionary history are rare. Using genome sequence data from 27 ancient Icelanders, we demonstrate that they are a combination of Norse, Gaelic, and admixed individuals. We further show that these ancient Icelanders are markedly more similar to their source populations in Scandinavia and the British-Irish Isles than to contemporary Icelanders, who have been shaped by 1100 years of extensive genetic drift. Finally, we report evidence of unequal contributions from the ancient founders to the contemporary Icelandic gene pool. These results provide detailed insights into the making of a human population that has proven extraordinarily useful for the discovery of genotype-phenotype associations.

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