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Different historical generation intervals in human populations inferred from Neanderthal fragment lengths and patterns of mutation accumulation

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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 today1,2. Here we investigate the size distribution of these fragments in non-African genomes3. We find consistent differences in fragment length distributions across Eurasia with 11% longer fragments in East Asians than in West Eurasians. By comparing extant populations and ancient samples, we show that these differences are due to a different rate of decay in length by recombination since the Neanderthal admixture. In line with this, we observe a strong correlation between the average fragment length and the accumulation of derived mutations, similar to what is expected by changing the ages at reproduction as estimated from trio studies4. Altogether, our results suggest consistent differences in the generation interval across Eurasia, by up to 20% (e.g. 25 versus 30 years), over the past 40,000 years. We use sex-specific accumulations of derived alleles to infer how these changes in generation intervals between geographical regions could have been mainly driven by shifts in either male or female age of reproduction, or both. We also find that previously reported variation in the mutational spectrum5 may be largely explained by changes to the generation interval and not by changes to the underlying mutational mechanism. We conclude that Neanderthal fragment lengths provide unique insight into differences of a key demographic parameter among human populations over the recent history.
Original languageEnglish
JournalbioRxiv
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2021

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