Pritchard and Pickrell developed software called TreeMix that compares how often variants of a particular gene from different populations appear in the same species. It then calculates how closely groups are related, and when in their history they separated to form a genetically distinct population or breed.
The resulting graph looks less like tree branches and more like a tangled shrub or mass of vines. The trunk of the shrub represents the major relationships between the groups, and the largest branches represent distinct populations as they develop over time from left to right on the graph. But those tangled vines that crisscross the branches are the key, showing migration events where a previously separate population mixed with another, rejoining to form a new group at a later point in time.
Pritchard and Pickrell tested the model using DNA from 55 human populations and 82 dog breeds, and already found some interesting results. For example, boxer and basenji breeds of dogs trace a large portion of their DNA (nine percent and 25 percent, respectively) back to wolves after domestication, meaning that these breeds interbred with wolves again after humans had begun to domesticate dogs.
"What I like about this is that it's starting to give us some resolution on relationships that are just much more complicated than you can capture using the standard tree approach," Pritchard said.
He gave another example of the Mozabite people who live in Algeria. Their DNA is largely a mixture of European and Middle Eastern ancestry, but they also mixed with sub-Saharan African ancestors at various points in their history. The new model can represent the complex relationships among all of these backgrounds, whereas the traditional tree-based method would just show a primary relationship to Middle Easterners.
Another group of researchers has already
|Contact: Matt Wood|
University of Chicago Medical Center