Ancestry and civic engagement

Jason Richwine writes:
Now “Calvinist” is a scary word in social policy, but I am strongly inclined to believe that civic engagement is biologically influenced, to a nontrivial extent. One of the foundations of behavioral genetics is that all basic personality traits—intelligence, extroversion, cooperativeness, sense of humor, etc.—are partially determined by heredity. Since people’s behavior obviously affects the kinds of societies they build, the connection between genes and social capital is not hard to make.

Consider the findings of Tom Rice and Jan Feldman, who compared levels of civic engagement among European ancestral groups in the United States. They found significant group differences, which track quite neatly with the same differences found among European countries today. In other words, Swedes are more civic than Italians, whether they still live in Europe or have long since moved to America! There is a highly persistent ethnic effect on social capital.

One could construct a purely cultural explanation for this, but it would be a stretch.
A graph from the paper I assume Richwine is referring to:

Source: Tom W. Rice and Jan L. Feldman. Civic Culture and Democracy from Europe to America. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Nov., 1997), pp. 1143-1172.

Europeans being selected to prefer low carbohydrate diets

Variants in Neuropeptide Y Receptor 1 and 5 Are Associated with Nutrient-Specific Food Intake and Are Under Recent Selection in Europeans

Clara C. Elbers et al.

There is a large variation in caloric intake and macronutrient preference between individuals and between ethnic groups, and these food intake patterns show a strong heritability. The transition to new food sources during the agriculture revolution around 11,000 years ago probably created selective pressure and shaped the genome of modern humans. One major player in energy homeostasis is the appetite-stimulating hormone neuropeptide Y, in which the stimulatory capacity may be mediated by the neuropeptide Y receptors 1, 2 and 5 (NPY1R, NPY2R and NPY5R). We assess association between variants in the NPY1R, NPY2R and NPY5R genes and nutrient intake in a cross-sectional, single-center study of 400 men aged 40 to 80 years, and we examine whether genomic regions containing these genes show signatures of recent selection in 270 HapMap individuals (90 Africans, 90 Asians, and 90 Caucasians) and in 846 Dutch bloodbank controls. Our results show that derived alleles in NPY1R and NPY5R are associated with lower carbohydrate intake, mainly because of a lower consumption of mono- and disaccharides. We also show that carriers of these derived alleles, on average, consume meals with a lower glycemic index and glycemic load and have higher alcohol consumption. One of these variants shows the hallmark of recent selection in Europe. Our data suggest that lower carbohydrate intake, consuming meals with a low glycemic index and glycemic load, and/or higher alcohol consumption, gave a survival advantage in Europeans since the agricultural revolution. This advantage could lie in overall health benefits, because lower carbohydrate intake, consuming meals with a low GI and GL, and/or higher alcohol consumption, are known to be associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases.

DNA tests probe the genomic ancestry of Brazilians

"White" Brazilians average ~70-80% European ancestry depending on the region (full text).
Studies with autosomal biparental markers reveal very elevated levels of genetic admixture between the three ancestral roots. However, it is also evident that there was an important population effect of the program of “whitening” of Brazil promoted through the immigration of circa six million Europeans in the roughly 100-year period after 1872. This manifests itself both in a predominant (>70%) European genomic ancestry in Brazilian Whites regardless of geographical region and in a high average European genomic ancestry (37.1%) in Brazilian Blacks.

Upcoming autosomal study of descendants of early New Englanders?

I'm not a fan of Bryan Sykes, but more data is always good -- and who knows if another study like this will ever be funded.
Participants Sought for a Boston-area Genetics Study, September 14–18

For a significant research project, Professor Bryan Sykes, the Oxford-based geneticist, will be collecting data in collaboration with NEHGS in the Boston area the week of September 14–18. He is interested in identifying documented descendants of early (pre-1700) immigrants to New England – and the more lines of descent from early New Englanders the participant has, the better. Professor Sykes would also like to hear from people who know, or suspect, that they have New England Native American ancestry.

People selected for this study will take part in a 1–2 hour meeting, possibly in their homes, and should be prepared to have their DNA tested. They must also be available for consultation (by phone or email) for feedback after the genetic results are available. Those participating should be available in the Boston area during the week of September 14–18.

If you meet these criteria and are interested in participating, please send the following information to

1. Your name and town.
2. A brief summary of your New England ancestry including the patrilineal and matrilineal elements.
3. If you have New England Native American ancestry, identify the tribe and briefly (100 words or less) summarize your documentation;
4. Provide an estimate of what percentage of your pre-1700 ancestors lived in New England;
5. When you would be available during the week of September 14–18.
6. Your email address and telephone number during the week of September 14–18.

Those selected to be included in the project will be contacted via email.
Based on the type of participants they're seeking and the information they ask for, I assume they'll be analyzing autosomal DNA in addition to Y and mtDNA.

Teutoburger Wald 2000th anniversary today

Steve McNallen:
Two thousand years ago this day, the Germans struck for their freedom and for their very existence as a people! // It was a step forward - a handful of tribes united, for a limited time. Germany was not yet a coherent nation, but a beginning had been made.
But modern Germans are cautious about celebrating this battle and the man. Adolf Hitler used his legend to forward the propaganda of the Third Reich. Because of this baggage, many Germans don’t even know about him; this part of German history is not taught in many schools. And during a recent modern re-enactment of the battle with Chancellor Merkel in attendance, the organizers were hard pressed to find any Germans who wanted to play the ancient Germans.

[. . .] It was Martin Luther himself who gave Hermann his name and deemed him a worthy heir apparent for the job of nation builder. During Luther’s time, Germany was not a united country [. . .] Arminius’ win at the Battle of Teutoberg [. . .] was just what the then splintered nation needed to unite into one nation—at least in Luther’s estimation.

SMGF adding genome-wide SNP data?

Something new I got out of Scott Woodward's Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation presentation (slides) at the DTC Genetic Testing Workshop is that SMGF has Affymetrix 6.0 data for 300 samples. SMGF is best known for their Y-STR database, but the original aim was to connect autosomal markers and pedigree data. I didn't see how they could do much in this direction with the handful of autosomal STRs they were typing, but if they end up typing a large proportion of their 108,000 samples for ~1 million SNPs, I could see interesting things happening.

Out of Africa, back to Africa, out again?

Update: John Hawks comments.

An article published today in the Daily Mail proclaims "Ancient skeletons discovered in Georgia threaten to overturn the theory of human evolution":
The first Dmanisi fossils were found in 2001. The most recent has only just been unearthed and its details have yet to be published in a scientific journal.

Prof Lordkipanidze said the Dmanisi bones may have belonged to an early Homo erectus which lived in Georgia before moving on to the rest of Europe.

Or the early humans may then have returned to Africa, eventually giving rise to our own species, Homoe sapiens, he said.

'The question is whether Homo erectus orginated in Africa or Eurasia, and if in Eurasia, did we have vice-versa migrations? This idea looked very stupid a few years ago, but not today,' he told the British Science Festival.
This scenario is not contradicted by modern human Y or mtDNA phylogenetics, which say nothing about where the ancestors of modern humans lived prior to the time when these uniparental lineages coalesce (80,000-160,000 years ago).

Prostate cancer as sexually transmitted disease?

The Scientist reports:
Prostate cancer is increasingly looking like an infectious disease, and may be sexually transmitted Mounting evidence suggests that prostate cancer is an infectious disease caused by a recently identified virus. The latest report, published today (September 7) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the virus was associated especially with aggressive prostate cancers [. . .] The suspect is xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus (XMRV), a gammaretrovirus similar to viruses known to cause cancer in animals.
A few people have attempted to use black-white differences in prostate cancer risk as evidence in favor of black-white differences in androgen exposure. This was always a backward and circular argument (prostate cancer researchers were responsible for the attempts to demonstrate higher androgen levels in black males in the first place). Various factors may contribute to elevated black prostate cancer risk (e.g., higher estrogen levels and genetic differences unrelated to androgen pathways), but this is probably a big one. Promiscuity is associated with prostate cancer in African-American men.

The Peopling of Europe

This appears to be an up-to-date summary of much of the genetic, archaeological, linguistic, and skeletal evidence relating to the origins or Europeans. The site also includes a table of ancient DNA results.

NatGeo: "The Human Family Tree"

The worst documentary of its kind yet: a two-hour ad for the Genographic project public participation component, heavy on the we are one / race doesn't exist message. If you thought The Journey of Man would have been great if only it contained vignettes from the lives of vibrant Queens residents (preferably involved in mixed-race relationships), you'll love The Human Family Tree.

Despite six years and tens of millions of dollars in funding, Spencer Wells relays scientific "facts" essentially identical to those he reported in his 2003 effort -- many of these facts being outdated (the idea that R1b is a marker of Paleolithic western European ancestry) or incorrect ("we're all 99.9% the same genetically").

On the positive side, the sloppy editing and narration may provoke some cognitive dissonance in the brighter race deniers who view the program. After some "survival of the fittest" talk (albeit in the context of Africa), after we're introduced to the ideas of climatic and sexual selection, and after we're told the ancestors of Europeans "toughened up" in the harsh climate of Central Asia, Kevin Bacon intones:
Like all of our other physical differences, the genetic changes responsible for our varying shades of color are minuscule. [. . .] For all the problems race has caused, our differences are literally not more than skin deep. Genetically speaking, race does not exist. Without those minuscule changes, though, people might never have survived in these northern latitudes. And that means, we might never have carried on to populate the rest of the world.
And later:
As the world grows increasingly smaller, babies like Leah are becoming the norm. Traits that formed over thousands of generations are being wiped clean in just a few. While cultural barriers continue to fall, biologically we know these barriers never existed in the first place.
If you feel the need to watch a program in this genre, The Incredible Human Journey is a better choice. The episodes on Europe and Asia at least feature a few interesting locations and artifacts, along with some (ultimately dismissive) discussion of multiregionalism.

"European Americans" are not homogenous

A new paper in PLoS ONE, Genetic Population Structure Analysis in New Hampshire Reveals Eastern European Ancestry, tells us little that wasn't already obvious: genetic distinctions can be drawn among "white" Americans. Unfortunately, only 960 SNPs, mostly on "suspected cancer susceptibility genes", are used for the structure analysis, and most of the clusters reported (for example, Jewish-French Canadian-Candian Indian) don't seem terribly meaningful. "Eastern European ancestry" is mentioned in the title only because "Finnish and Russian/Polish/Lithuanian ancestries were most notably found to be associated with genetic substructure" in this data set. As we've seen repeatedly, with more markers, clear and meaningful genetic substructure is apparent throughout Europe and across various European ancestry groups in the US.

An estimate of sub-Saharan autosomal admixture in southern Europe

Polak reports that ASHG 2009 abstracts are now up. I don't know how accurate these estimates are, but the finding that the proportion of sub-Saharan ancestry is highest in Iberia is consistent with the mtDNA evidence.
Characterizing the history of sub-Saharan African gene flow into southern Europe.

P. Moorjani1, N. Patterson2, J. Hirschhorn1,3, D. Reich1,2. 1) Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; 2) Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA; 3) Divisions of Endocrinology and Genetics and Program in Genomics, Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA.

Recent analyses of whole-genomeSNP data sets have suggested a history of sub-Saharan African ancestral contribution into southern Europe but not in northern Europe, consistent with previous analyses based on the Ychromosome and mitochondrial DNA. However, there has been no characterization of the proportion of African admixture in southern Europe, or of its date. Here we analyze data from ~450,000 autosomal SNPs in the Population Reference Sample, ~650,000 SNPs from the Human Genome Diversity Panel, and ~1.5 million SNPs from the HapMap Phase 3 Project, and studied patterns of correlation in allele frequencies across populations to confirm the evidence of African ancestry in many southern European populations but not in northern Europeans. Using methods that can infer admixture proportions in the absence of accurate ancestral populations, we estimated that the proportion of sub-Saharan African ancestry in Spain is 2.4 +/- 0.3%, in Tuscany 1.5 +/- 0.3%, and in Greece 1.9 +/- 0.7% (1 standard error). We also studied the decay of admixture linkage disequilibrium with genetic distance, which provided a preliminary estimate of the date of African gene flow into Spain of roughly 60 generations ago, or about 1,700 years ago assuming 28 years per generation. This date is consistent with the historically known movement of individuals of North African ancestry into Spain, although it is possible that this estimate also reflects a wider range of mixture times.