Researchers have dissected the evolutionary history of Italians for the first time, revealing their extraordinary diversity dates back 19,000 years ago.
The study shows that northern and southern Italians evolved differently over time due to contrasting environmental and ecological circumstances that resulted in the peculiarities of their gene pools.
The results help to explain the differences in the health of both groups, as well as their predisposition to certain diseases.
The team sequenced the entire genome of participants from both locations, resulting in more than 17 million genetic variants that were compared to 600 human remains dating from the Upper Paleolithic to the Bronze Age.
The team identified traces of post-glacial migrations in those living in northern Italy, who also presented a close relation to ancient European cultures such as the Magdalenian and the Epigravettian - these groups were mainly situated in what is now France and Spain.
On the other hand, southern Italians were found to have a close relation with Neolithic human remains from Anatolia, modern-day Turkey, and the Middle East, and with Bronze-Age remains from south Caucasus - a region that extends into Africa.
Researchers also discovered peculiarities characterizing people living in the north and south that evolved due to different environments that contribute to reducing the risk of kidney inflammation and skin cancers, as well as the risk of diabetes and obesity, favoring a longer lifespan.
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Researchers have dissected the evolutionary history of Italians for the first time, revealing their extraordinary diversity dates back to 19,000 years ago. The results showed exact culture that impacted both the northern and southern regions of the country
Marco Sazzini, one of the principal investigators of this study and professor of molecular anthropology at the University of Bologna, said: 'Gaining an understanding of the evolutionary history of the ancestors of Italians allows us to better grasp the demographic processes and those of environmental interactions that shaped the complex mosaic of ancestry components of today's European populations.'
'This investigation provides valuable information in order to fully appreciate the biological characteristics of the current Italian population.'
'Moreover, it let us understand the deep causes that can impact on this population's health or on its predisposition to a number of diseases.'
For this study, which is published in BMC Biology, the team sequenced the entire genome of 40 participants, which brought forth 17,495,290 single nucleotide variants (SNVs).
The researchers were able to map out the location of the ancient civilizations that influenced the genetic diversity among both groups of Italians
After analyzing the genomes of the southern Italian participants, researchers discovered that the post-glacial migrations traces were not present and noted that more recent events significantly reshaped their gene pool
The scientists then compared the SNVs against the genetic variants observed in 35 other populations from Europe and from the Mediterranean, and then against those found nearly 600 human remains dating from the Upper Palaeolithic (40,000 years ago) to the Bronze Age (4,000 years ago).
'These comparisons reached such high levels of precision that it was possible to extend the investigation to very remote time periods with respect to those achieved by previous studies,' the team shared in a statement.
Following these investigations, the team determined traces left in the gene pool by events that followed the last glaciation that ended about 19,000 years ago.
The oldest events leaving a trace in Italian DNA were the migrations that occurred during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, which took place 7,000 and 4,000 years ago.
'The results of this study show, on the contrary, that the earliest biological adaptations to the environment and migrations underlying Italians' extraordinary genetic diversity are much older than previously thought,' the team explained.
The team also evaluated and measured differences between the gene pools of participants from northern and southern Italy.
Stefania Sarno, researcher at the University of