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Lactose tolerance rose in Europeans later than earlier believed

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Modern European and Central Asian peoples are genetically speaking not more than a couple of thousand years old. It was during the Bronze Age that the last major chapters were written in the story of the genetic past of Europe and central Asia. How it happened has been intensively debated among archaeologists. In a study lead by the Centre for GeoGenetics, geneticists and archaeologists from Gothenburg University have generated the largest ancient genomic study to date, and in doing so established how the foundation for modern Europe and Central Asia was laid.

New results derive from DNA-analyses of skeletons excavated across large areas of Europe and Central Asia, thus enabling these crucial glimpses into the dynamics of the Bronze Age. In addition to the population movement insights, the data also held other surprises. For example, contrary to the research team’s expectations, the data revealed that lactose tolerance rose to high frequency in Europeans, in comparison to prior belief that it evolved earlier in time (5,000 – 7,000 years ago). Co-author and Associate Professor Martin Sikora from the Centre for GeoGenetics says:

– Previously the common belief was that lactose tolerance developed in the Balkans or in the Middle East in connection with the introduction of farming during the Stone Age. But now we can see that even late in the Bronze Age the mutation that gives rise to the tolerance is rare in Europe. We think that it may have been introduced into Europe with the Yamnaya herders from Caukasus but that the selection that has made most Europeans lactose tolerant has happened at a much later time.

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