Ancient DNA Suggests Origins of Multiple Sclerosis in EU

A massive cache of ancient genomes has helped researchers trace the origins of a wide variety of the genetic traits that occur in modern Europeans. According to the ancient DNA, characteristics such as an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis may have reached Europe more than 45,000 years ago in the genomes of people who migrated to the European continent in three distinct waves.

The research findings suggest that differences in the dispersal patterns of ancient migrants may have resulted in some of the regional variation seen in specific traits, contradicting the theory that genetic differences could have have occurred due to adaptations triggered by settling in different locations.

Migrants settled the European continent in three waves that began with hunter-gatherers from Asia around 45.000 years ago, followed by Middle Eastern farmers 11,000 years ago and pastoralists from the eastern European and western Asian steppes around 5,000 years ago. Generally, historians and archaeologists assumed that these different groups mixed throughout Europe, with some populations evolving distinct traits depending on where they settled.

However, research led by University of Cambridge geneticist Esle Willerslev and his team found that this theory may not be entirely true. The research team collected DNA on 317 ancient Eurasian skeletons that were between 3,000 and 11,000 years old, sequenced it and then combined the sequencing with genomic data from more than 1,300 additional Eurasian skeletons.

Comparison of the genetic markers within the remains with their ages and known burial locations allowed the scientists to draw a migration map and European family tree that shows them how genomic characteristics in certain locations evolved over time as populations moved.

For instance, the scientists found that Middle Eastern farmers mostly went to the west and south while steppe pastoralists went to the northern parts of the continents. Some of the traveling communities completely replaced the local populations in nations such as Denmark, which went through two major population transitions in only a couple of generations.

Willerslev notes that the speed of the population transitions and archaeological evidence suggests that the migrants may have killed local populations rather than mixed with them or drive them out. He adds that the dispersal patterns uncovered in his study suggest that plenty of modern Europeans may now carry genes from the three population waves that ultimately settled the EU.

Willerslev and his team also compared the genes collected and sequenced from ancient skeletons with genetic profiles of 410,000 modern Europeans and found that genetic differences in modern Europeans can be traced back to the three migratory waves.

Northern Europeans, for instance, tend to be lighter skinned and taller than southern Europeans because they are more descended from steppe pastoralists while Europeans with hunter-gatherer ancestry tend to be more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

This genealogical connection could give drug makers such as Clene Inc. (NASDAQ: CLNN) extra insights to mull over as they work to bring to market novel treatments targeting MS and other such neurodegenerative ailments.

NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to Clene Inc. (NASDAQ: CLNN) are available in the company’s newsroom at

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