Prehistoric Human Diversity and Rise in Genetic Risk for Multiple Sclerosis Revealed in New Research by Danish National Museum

New research published in Nature has provided detailed insights into prehistoric human diversity and migration, as well as shedding light on the genetic risk factors for multiple sclerosis (MS). The study analyzed data from the world’s largest data set on ancient human genomes, consisting of 5,000 genomes from Europe and Western Asia. The research was led by experts from the University of Copenhagen, with contributions from researchers around the world.

The findings of the study, presented in four articles in Nature, include the discovery of a cultural barrier that existed in Europe until about 4,000 years ago, which extended from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. The study also mapped the dispersion of risk genes for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease following large migration events more than 5,000 years ago.

One significant finding of the study is the link between ancient migrations and the prevalence of multiple sclerosis. The research provides new evidence explaining why Scandinavia has twice the prevalence of MS compared to Southern Europe.

The study also revealed two population turnovers in Denmark within a single millennium, highlighting the dynamic nature of human populations in the region.

The data set of 5,000 ancient human genomes was reconstructed through the analysis of bones and teeth from museums and universities across Europe and Western Asia. The sequencing was carried out using Illumina technology. The specimens in the data set range from the Mesolithic period to the Middle Ages, with the oldest genome dating back approximately 34,000 years.

The research project was initiated in 2018 by three professors from the University of Copenhagen, with the aim of gaining a deeper understanding of the genetic architecture underlying brain disorders. The project received funding from the Lundbeck Foundation and was coordinated at the newly established Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Center.

The project faced many challenges, including logistical issues in accessing archaeological specimens and handling the large volume of data. However, the researchers were able to overcome these challenges and produce groundbreaking results.

The research has generated significant international interest, with researchers from around the world requesting access to the ancient DNA data set. The findings from the study have the potential to revolutionize disease research and provide valuable insights into the evolution of brain disorders.

As more scientific discoveries are made using the 5,000-genome data set, the complete data set will be made freely available to all researchers, ensuring that the findings have maximum impact in the scientific community.

Overall, the study represents a major milestone in understanding human history and genetic diversity, with implications for various fields of research, including archaeology, evolutionary biology, and medicine.

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