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Laurits Skov

Different historical generation intervals in human populations inferred from Neanderthal fragment lengths and mutation signatures

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After the main Out-of-Africa event, humans interbred with Neanderthals leaving 1–2% of Neanderthal DNA scattered in small fragments in all non-African genomes today. Here we investigate what can be learned about human demographic processes from the size distribution of these fragments. We observe differences in fragment length across Eurasia with 12% longer fragments in East Asians than West Eurasians. Comparisons between extant populations with ancient samples show that these differences are caused by different rates of decay in length by recombination since the Neanderthal admixture. In concordance, we observe a strong correlation between the average fragment length and the mutation accumulation, similar to what is expected by changing the ages at reproduction as estimated from trio studies. Altogether, our results suggest differences in the generation interval across Eurasia, by up 10–20%, over the past 40,000 years. We use sex-specific mutation signatures to infer whether these changes were driven by shifts in either male or female age at reproduction, or both. We also find that previously reported variation in the mutational spectrum may be largely explained by changes to the generation interval. We conclude that Neanderthal fragment lengths provide unique insight into differences among human populations over recent history.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5317
JournalNature Communications
Volume12
Issue1
Number of pages11
ISSN2041-1723
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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