We report the discovery of an African American Y chromosome that carries the ancestral state of all SNPs that defined the basal portion of the Y chromosome phylogenetic tree. We sequenced ∼240 kb of this chromosome to identify private, derived mutations on this lineage, which we named A00. We then estimated the time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) for the Y tree as 338 thousand years ago (kya) (95% confidence interval = 237–581 kya). Remarkably, this exceeds current estimates of the mtDNA TMRCA, as well as those of the age of the oldest anatomically modern human fossils. The extremely ancient age combined with the rarity of the A00 lineage, which we also find at very low frequency in central Africa, point to the importance of considering more complex models for the origin of Y chromosome diversity. These models include ancient population structure and the possibility of archaic introgression of Y chromosomes into anatomically modern humans. The A00 lineage was discovered in a large database of consumer samples of African Americans and has not been identified in traditional hunter-gatherer populations from sub-Saharan Africa. This underscores how the stochastic nature of the genealogical process can affect inference from a single locus and warrants caution during the interpretation of the geographic location of divergent branches of the Y chromosome phylogenetic tree for the elucidation of human origins.
It could still be a very early diverging H. sapiens lineage, as is surely the case of the more recent and slightly more common A0 (former A1b, found in Cameroonian Western Pygmies, 8.3%, and among Algerian Mozabites, 1.5% – see here) but both are in the blurry zone of the time of birth of our species (judging from archaeological and paleoanthropological data) c. 200 Ka ago. The first documented “modern human” skull, Omo 2, is dated to 190 Ka ago and it shares locality with another one, Omo 1, which is rather H. rhodesiensis, so in that “dawn of modern humankind” there was surely not a very clearly drawn line between modern humans or Homo sapiens and archaic humans or Homo rhodesiensis (or whatever). Some of those proto-Sapiens lineages still remain among us at very low levels.
Update (Mar 3): Kalupitero commented in another entry that this lineage has very distinctive STR markers and that he has spotted 9 Cameroonians and one French (probably of African ancestry) with it at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation database.
Update (Mar 5): A reader directed me to a free copy of this paper, from where I selected fig. 1 (above) and fig. 3 (below). I realized that the number of sequences detected among the Mbo was not one as I originally said but eight. They also mention that the frequency of this lineage in Africa must be very low: c. 0.19% (CI: 0.11-0.35%).
- YSOGG: haplogroup A (not yet updated at the time of writing this)
- M. Hammer et al., Genetic evidence for archaic admixture in Africa. PNAS 2011.
The early expansion of H. sapiens in Africa (mtDNA) (comparing with those mtDNA expansion maps, my work of years ago, suggests that the admixture should have happened with the expansion of the L1 or L1c population, at the Western edge of early Homo sapiens expansion as told by mtDNA).