Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Y chromosome of Neanderthals

A paper published in Science (The evolutionary history of Neanderthal and Denisovan Y chromosomes by Martin Petr et al. SCIENCE 25 SEP 2020 : 1653-1656), reports that "interbreeding between early humans and Neanderthals and selection replaced the more ancient Denisovian-like Y chromosome and mitochondria in Neanderthals".

The paper includes this tree:

Caption for image: "A) Neighbor-joining tree estimated from the Y chromosome genotype calls, excluding C-to-T and G-to-A polymorphisms, rooted with a chimpanzee as the outgroup (14). Numbers show bootstrap support out of 100 bootstrap replicates. Terminal branch lengths are not informative about the ages of specimens (Fig. 1A), owing to differences in sequence quality. (B) Estimates of TMRCA between Y chromosomes along the x axis and a panel of 13 non-African Y chromosomes. Each dot represents the TMRCA with a single non-African Y chromosome, with error bars showing 95% CI from a resampling of branch counts (14). Black horizontal lines show the mean TMRCA calculated across the full non-African panel (dashed lines) with resampling-based 95% CI (solid lines) (14).".

I have written about Neanderthal Y chromosome in two posts (May 2014 and May 2018), so I found this paper really intersting.

It suggest that:

  • Denisovans, Neanderthals and Humans lie on three separate phylogentic branches ("the Denisovan Y chromosomes form a separate lineage that split before Neanderthal and modern human Y chromosomes diverged from each other (Fig. 2A). Notably, all three late Neanderthal Y chromosomes cluster together and fall outside of the variation of present-day human Y chromosomes"). This is what one would expect.
  • Split dates: "The two Denisovan Y chromosomes split from the modern human lineage around 700 ka ago ... By contrast, the three Neanderthal Y chromosomes split from the modern human lineage about 370 ka ago". Which also seems quite normal to me.
  • They conclude that "The Denisovan–modern human Y chromosome TMRCA estimates agree with population split times inferred from autosomal sequences, suggesting that the differentiation of Denisovan Y chromosomes from modern humans occurred through a simple population split"
  • And find the 370 ky TMRCA too recent for the Neanderthal Y chromosome. They authors write: "By contrast, the young TMRCA of Neanderthal and modern human Y chromosomes and mtDNAs suggest that these loci have been replaced in Neanderthals through gene flow from an early lineage closely related to modern humans."

So they concluded that a line of modern humans admixed into Neandethals, and they completely replaced Neanderthal Y chromosomes and that is why the split seems so recent. Instead of reflecting the older age they expected. This is summarized as "Autosomal genomes show that Neanderthals and Denisovans are sister groups that split from modern humans between 550 thousand and 765 thousand years (ka) ago. By contrast, the mtDNAs of Neanderthals and modern humans are more similar to one another [time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) of 360 to 468 ka ago] than to the mtDNAs of Denisovans."

They add: "We conclude that the Y chromosomes of late Neandertals represent an extinct lineage closely related to modern human Y chromosomes that introgressed into Neanderthals between ~370 and ~100 ka ago. The presence of this Y chromosome lineage in all late Neanderthals makes it unlikely that genetic changes that accumulated in Neanderthal and modern human Y chromosomes before the introgression led to incompatibilities between these groups".

Now, they only sampled 3 male Neanderthals. Perhaps a larger sample may result in a different outcome. An introgression 370 ka would mean that these humans "closely related" modern humans left Africa -assuming the Out Of Africa theory is correct- 370 ka in an ancient migration and mated with Neanderthals. Since their Y chromosome is distinct from ours, these "closely related" people must have died out in Eurasia.

But looking at the tree and the dates, why conclude an admixture from "closely related" humans into Neanderthals? An admixture that erased old Neanderthal Y chromosomes?

Occam's razor approach suggests: the Neanderthals have a different Y chromosome to us and to Denisovans (fig. above, B) it lies on a different branch. Which ratifies the conclusion. So is the age an issue? 370 ka is too recent?

Why not look into the assumptions that lead to this date? Such as the mutation rate (they estimated 7.34 × 10−10 per base pair per year) or the age they adopted for the "oldest Y lineages" (A00): ~249 ka ago.

I am agree with the authors when they state " Furthermore, we predict that the ~400-ka-old Sima de los Huesos Neanderthals should carry a Y chromosome lineage more similar to that of Denisovans than to that of later Neanderthals", it is reasonable, and does not impact on their supposed Y chromosome replacement theory. Sima de los Huesos chromosomes may also have evolved into what we find in later Neanderthals.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2020 by Austin Whittall © 

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