The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

A genetic perspective on the evolution of longevity at the Middle Paleolithic to Upper Paleolithic transition


1Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 2Department of Mathematics, University of Michigan, 3Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan

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Fossil evidence indicates a marked increase in longevity, or the number of individuals living to be potential grandparents, between Upper Paleolithic (UP) populations in Europe and earlier Middle Paleolithic (MP) Neanderthals. The cultural implications for bi-generational learning and the timing at the MP/UP transition make this shift important to understand the uniqueness of the extended human lifespan and extensive culture. Multiple adaptive explanations have been suggested to explain this demographic shift, but it remains unknown if biological and/or cultural and ecological differences allowed for the increase in the longevity observed in UP populations. Here, we test the null hypothesis: Neanderthals and modern humans do not differ significantly at longevity associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We compared 29 longevity-associated SNPs in the Neanderthal consensus sequence with one modern human population, the CEPH European data from the HapMap. Next, we tested loci that differ in modern human populations and the Neanderthal consensus sequence for signatures of natural selection using standard statistical tests that detect departures from neutrality. Genes showing evidence of strong recent selection in the modern populations could indicate differences between modern humans and Neanderthals, or between modern humans and UP European populations. These results contribute a genetic perspective on the evolution of longevity during the MP/UP transition.

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