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Why and when was lactase persistence selected for? Insights from Central Asian herders and ancient DNA

Abstract : The genetic adaptation of humans to the consumption of milk from dairying animals is one of the most emblematic cases of recent human evolution. While the phenotypic change under selection, lactase persistence (LP), is known, the evolutionary advantage conferred to persistent individuals remains obscure. One informative but underappreciated observation is that not all populations whose ancestors had access to milk genetically adapted to become lactase persistent. Indeed, Central Asian herders are mostly lactase nonpersistent, despite their significant dietary reliance on dairy products. Investigating the temporal dynamic of the −13.910:C>T Eurasian mutation associated with LP, we found that, after its emergence in Ukraine 5,960 before present (BP), the T allele spread between 4,000 BP and 3,500 BP throughout Eurasia, from Spain to Kazakhstan. The timing and geographical progression of the mutation coincides well with the migration of steppe populations across and outside of Europe. After 3,000 BP, the mutation strongly increased in frequency in Europe, but not in Asia. We propose that Central Asian herders have adapted to milk consumption culturally, by fermentation, and/or by colonic adaptation, rather than genetically. Given the possibility of a nongenetic adaptation to avoid intestinal symptoms when consuming dairy products, the puzzle then becomes this: why has LP been selected for at all?
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Laure Ségurel, Perle Guarino-Vignon, Nina Marchi, Sophie Lafosse, Romain Laurent, et al.. Why and when was lactase persistence selected for? Insights from Central Asian herders and ancient DNA. PLoS Biology, Public Library of Science, 2020, 18 (6), pp.e3000742. ⟨10.1371/journal.pbio.3000742⟩. ⟨inserm-02908479⟩



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