DNA Links 3 People To Ancient Remains; Still Living In The Same Area 5,000 Years Later

Anthropologists said this week that DNA from ancient bones from northern British Columbia demonstrates a direct link between long-ago inhabitants and Native American descendants who live in the region today.


Assembling complete mitochondrial DNA genomes from four ancient individuals and three modern ones, the team found that living people had the exact same sequences found in bones that were thousands of years old — proving “definitively,” they said, that the native communities had been in the region a very, very, very long time.


“We’re showing there’s a long-term affinity with the present-day First Nations population, going back 5,000 years,” said Jerome Cybulski, former curator of physical anthropology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, and coauthor of a paper describing the research that was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.


To reveal the genetic ties, anthropologist Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and colleagues looked at mitochondrial DNA, which helps direct how the cellular powerhouses called mitochondria generate energy in the body.  Mitochondrial DNA, unlike the so-called nuclear DNA that carries every organism’s genetic blueprint, is passed down directly from mothers to offspring, without any mixing with DNA from the father.

Geneticists have used mitochondrial DNA to probe ancient bloodlines for decades, usually concentrating on a small segment of the DNA called HVS1 to determine whether individuals are related.  For this study, Malhi and his colleagues also started off by concentrating on such short segments, in both ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA samples.  Finding striking similarities between a few of the ancient and living people in those short sequences, they then went on to sequence the entire mitochondrial genomes — 16,500 DNA letter pairs apiece — of the individuals.