Ancient DNA reveals reason for high MS and Alzheimer's rates in Europe

January 11, 2024

Researchers have created the world’s largest ancient human gene bank by analysing the bones and teeth of almost 5,000 humans who lived across western Europe and Asia up to 34,000 years ago. By sequencing ancient human DNA and comparing it to modern-day samples, the international team of experts mapped the historical spread of genes – and diseases – over time as populations migrated. The ‘astounding’ results have been revealed in four trailblazing papers published today in the journal Nature and provide new biological understanding of debilitating disorders. The study involved a large international team led by Professor Eske Willerslev at the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, Professor Thomas Werge at the University of Copenhagen, and Professor Rasmus Nielsen at University of California, Berkeley, with contributions from 175 researchers from around the globe. They found:The origins of neurodegenerative diseases including multiple sclerosisWhy northern Europeans today are taller than people from southern EuropeHow major migration around 5,000 years ago introduced risk genes into the population in north-western Europe – leaving a legacy of higher rates of MS todayCarrying the MS gene was an advantage at the time as it protected ancient farmers from catching infectious diseases from their sheep and cattleGenes known to increase the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes were traced back to hunter gatherersFuture analysis is hoped to reveal more about the genetic markers of autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Researchers have created the world’s largest ancient human gene bank by analysing the bones and teeth of almost 5,000 humans who lived across western Europe and Asia up to 34,000 years ago.

By sequencing ancient human DNA and comparing it to modern-day samples, the international team of experts mapped the historical spread of genes – and diseases – over time as populations migrated.

The ‘astounding’ results have been revealed in four trailblazing papers published today in the journal Nature and provide new biological understanding of debilitating disorders.

The study involved a large international team led by Professor Eske Willerslev at the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, Professor Thomas Werge at the University of Copenhagen, and Professor Rasmus Nielsen at University of California, Berkeley, with contributions from 175 researchers from around the globe. They found:

  • The origins of neurodegenerative diseases including multiple sclerosis
  • Why northern Europeans today are taller than people from southern Europe
  • How major migration around 5,000 years ago introduced risk genes into the population in north-western Europe – leaving a legacy of higher rates of MS today
  • Carrying the MS gene was an advantage at the time as it protected ancient farmers from catching infectious diseases from their sheep and cattle
  • Genes known to increase the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes were traced back to hunter gatherers

Future analysis is hoped to reveal more about the genetic markers of autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

The source of this news is from University of Cambridge

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