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Ancient DNA Reveals Fascinating Insights into the Origins of Multiple Sclerosis

Carrie Graves, AP

Recent groundbreaking research has shed light on this enigma, particularly regarding Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a neurological condition affecting millions globally. The surprising link? Our very own ancient DNA.

An illistration of the livestock and herding connection of humanities past effecting modern diseases like Multiple sclerosis

 

Decoding the Past: How Ancient Europeans Shape Modern Health

Researchers embarked on a remarkable journey into the past, analyzing DNA from Europeans who lived as far back as 34,000 years ago. The findings were nothing short of groundbreaking, revealing a direct link between genetic variants from our ancestors and the increased risk of MS in the present day.

The Protective Past: Ancient Genetics and Disease Resistance

Interestingly, these genetic variants, now associated with MS, were once defense mechanisms against animal-borne diseases. This insight offers a fascinating perspective on the intricate dance between genetics and health.

The Yamnaya Migration: A Turning Point in Genetic History

About 5,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, a significant migration shaped our genetic landscape. The Yamnaya, livestock herders from regions like modern Ukraine and southern Russia, moved into Western Europe, bringing with them traits that guarded against infections from their animals.

From Protection to Vulnerability: The Evolution of Genetic Traits

As time progressed and sanitation improved, these protective genetic traits began to backfire, increasing MS risks. This phenomenon particularly affected Northern Europeans, explaining why they have the highest MS prevalence globally.

Adapting to Modernity: The Genetic Legacy of Our Ancestors

Our genetic makeup is a tapestry woven by evolution and past environments. In today’s vastly different world, our immune systems, shaped by these ancient conditions, might not be ideally adapted, potentially leading to conditions like MS.

Rethinking MS Research and Treatment: A New Direction

These findings are pivotal for MS research and treatment strategies. The focus might shift from merely suppressing the immune system to adapting it to our contemporary environment, opening new avenues for managing MS.

Beyond MS: A Glimpse into Other Genetic Influences

The study also revealed other genetic traits influenced by the Yamnaya migration, such as height differences in Europeans, risks for Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes in Eastern Europeans, and the emergence of lactose tolerance.

The Takeaway: Our Genetic Blueprint and Health

The study of ancient DNA not only provides insights into diseases like MS but also reminds us of the deep connection between our genetic history and health in a changing world.

 

TL;DR: Key Insights from the Study

Ancient DNA from European ancestors reveals insights into MS origins.

Genetic variants linked to MS were once protective against animal-borne diseases.

The research involved sequencing ancient DNA from 1,664 individuals and comparing it with modern DNA.

The Bronze Age migration of the Yamnaya people introduced these genetic traits to Western Europe.

Northern Europeans have the highest MS prevalence due to these genetic variants.

The study underscores the dynamic nature of genetic traits in relation to environmental changes.

MS research might benefit from focusing on immune system recalibration.

The study also sheds light on genetic traits related to height, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and lactose tolerance in Europeans.

 

References

Allentoft, M.E., et al. Population genomics of post-glacial western Eurasia. Nature 625, 301–311 (2024).

Allentoft, M.E., et al. 100 ancient genomes show repeated population turnovers in Neolithic Denmark. Nature 625, 329–337 (2024).

Barrie, W., et al. Elevated genetic risk for multiple sclerosis emerged in steppe pastoralist populations. Nature 625, 321–328 (2024).

Irving-Pease, E.K., et al. The selection landscape and genetic legacy of ancient Eurasians. Nature 625, 312–320 (2024).

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