Clines of nuclear DNA markers suggest a largely neolithic ancestry of the European gene pool.

Chikhi L, Destro-Bisol G, Bertorelle G, Pascali V, Barbujani G.

Dipartimento di Biologia, Universita di Ferrara, via Borsari 46, 44100 Ferrara, Italy.

Comparisons between archaeological findings and allele frequencies at protein loci suggest that most genes of current Europeans descend from populations that have been expanding in Europe in the last 10, 000 years, in the Neolithic period. Recent mitochondrial data have been interpreted as indicating a much older, Paleolithic ancestry. In a spatial autocorrelation study at seven hypervariable loci in Europe (four microsatellites, two larger, tandem-repeat loci, and a sequence polymorphism) broad clinal patterns of DNA variation were recognized. The observed clines closely match those described at the protein level, in agreement with a possible Near Eastern origin for the ancestral population. Separation times between populations were estimated on the basis of a stepwise mutation model. Even assuming low mutation rates and long generation times, we found no evidence for population splits older than 10,000 years, with the predictable exception of Saami (Lapps). The simplest interpretation of these results is that the current nuclear gene pool largely reflects the westward and northward expansion of a Neolithic group. This conclusion is now supported by purely genetic evidence on the levels and patterns of microsatellite diversity, rather than by correlations of biological and nonbiological data. We argue that many mitochondrial lineages whose origin has been traced back to the Paleolithic period probably reached Europe at a later time.