Suspicious Minds

If you want a logical reason for the complete disinterest in longevity research shown by the powers that be, the most obvious, if you’re even a little paranoid, is that they already have the secret, and aren’t interested in distributing it to the hoi polloi.  If so, members of the inner circle would obviously have to fake their own deaths every so often – otherwise they might face mobs of angry peasants bearing torches. Still, occasionally losing your identity is a small price to pay for for the privilege of being a sequoia farmer.  It wouldn’t mean losing power – real power is already invisible.

Of course, if you were truly the top dog, there would be a temptation to occasionally drop the disguise and shake up the groundlings.  Even if this was reported again and again, every serious person would know that it was just fodder for trailer trash.

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The Day Before Forever

Yesterday, I was discussing the possibilities concerning slowing, or reversing aging – why it’s obviously possible, although likely a hard engineering problem.  Why partial successes would be valuable,  why making use of the evolutionary theory of senescence should help, why we should look at whales and porcupines as well as Jeanne Calment, etc., etc.  I talked a long time – it’s a subject that has interested me for many years.

But there’s one big question: why are the powers that be utterly uninterested ?

Posted in Aging | 51 Comments

Before Slavery

We keep hearing more about European genetic prehistory, and the picture is coming together.  In one new paper,  we hear aDNA results from the Carpathian Basin. It’s clear that the LBK farmers are the same people as the earlier Starcevo culture in the Balkans, and that those farmers are genetically quite distinct from the original hunter-gatherers of Europe. If you consider uniparental markers ( mtDNA and the Y-chromosome), they look to have incorporated very few local foragers. U5b is by far the most common mtDNA haplotype among the old hunters – I’m not sure that it’s been seen at all in the LBK farmers.  Almost all of the known Y chromosomes among the farmers (both LBK in central Europe and Cardial along the Med) are G2a2 – 29 out of 32. Today G2a2 is not common in Europe – you find some in the hills of southern Europe.

Reich and Patterson think that the EEF, the farmers, have a fair amount of WHG ancestry: I wonder how they managed that while picking up very little hunter uniparental markers.

They also have an abstract out for a talk at ASHG: we knew that modern Europeans are very different from the EEF,  especially in modern Europe, but we didn’t know when those new populations (which also have the Sibermen taint) showed up.  Turns out that the Corded Ware population has that new flavor: they are probably the Indo-European invaders of northern Europe, as many had suspected.


From what I can see so far, it looks as the invaders killed all the LBK-descended farmers in northern Europe, or nearly so.  The locals had had long trapezoidal houses clustered in small villages: the Corded Ware culture has almost no buildings at all, and a lot less agriculture.  They didn’t make the EEF guys serfs and get a cut of their grain – the villages disappeared. They didn’t tax them,  but then money and bureaucracy hadn’t been invented yet. Same for slavery: hadn’t been invented, probably.  Judging from the mtDNA patterns, they didn’t even grab many of the nubile women. The genetic mix changes little as you move across the north European plain: if the invaders were picking up local genes as they rolled along, it should have.

We used to call Corded Ware the Battle-Axe culture, but that’s too accurate for comfort.

Probably-related groups had already crushed the Old European cultures of the Balkans:  maybe they acquired a taste for devastation – better to burn out than fade away, right?

Again, and this is a guess, it looks as if something less genocidal happened in most of southern Europe.  Autosomally, southern Europeans are mostly EEF – sometimes almost entirely so, like highland Sardinians. Yet there has been a big turnover in Y-chromosomes: G2A2 is now fairly rare in most parts of  southern Europe.  Sounds like patrilineal conquest: the sons of warriors and aristocrats went forth conquering, but married local girls, diluting their original autosomal flavor (rather like India and Iran, but that’s another story!).  The warrior culture worked, kept expanding, even so, and the original EEF men have few Y-chromosomal descendants today – mostly in places that the conquerors didn’t really want.

In some cases, the patrilineal warriors were diluted to the point that they imposed their Y chromosomes and literally nothing else – very few autosomal genes, not even language. Plausible for the Basque.

Posted in European Prehistory, Indo-European | Tagged , , , | 77 Comments

Empire of the Ants

In the process of hanging out in the back yard, and walking around the neighborhood, I have seen a number of examples of ant wars. In one case, they came over the wall, and after a long period of stylized conflict that looked something like a siege, they grabbed the eggs and nymphs and carried  them back over the wall, destined for a life of slavery.  I’ve seen repeated wars between colonies next to the sidewalk in front of the house just north of us: again, they sit and threaten each other for days before getting down to brass tacks.

That is, I think I’ve seen this.  Other people are under the same delusion: The Ants, by Holldobler and Wilson,  has lots of interesting stuff about ant wars and slavery.

Other people think they’ve seen male lions kill young cubs, after they take over a pride, or a first-born lesser spotted eagle kill its younger sibling.  The silly geese think it happens every time!  Other think that hyenas live in clans of related females  (and subordinate males), clans that war with other clans. But that can’t be right.

Worse yet, chimpanzees, our closest relatives, have often been caught in the act – groups of related males go out on search-and-destroy missions aimed at chimps in neighboring bands. When they catch a neighbor alone, they scrag him.  At least, some say this happens.

But none of these things can really be true – because although they by no means prove that war is biologically innate among humans, this kind of evidence does suggest that it might be – and that is obviously impossible, by the most powerful of all epistemological principles.  It would hurt Brian Ferguson’s feelings.

Now maybe chimps get into trouble because bad humans have brought apples into their Eden .  That could be, especially if the interlopers are Europeans: they can make anything happen.  Europeans can make Amerindians massacre each other, even hundreds of years before Columbus: is there no limit to their villainy and recklessness, which threatens to create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum, and destroy the entire universe?

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Let’s Get Small

I said earlier than it seemed likely that archaic hominid living in special environments, for a long time (sometimes more than a million years) inevitably developed high-quality adaptations to those environments, and since such alleles are easily transmitted, modern humans were likely to pick them up. The recent discovery of a Denisovan altitude adaptation in Tibetans fits this model.

I also said that there was a specific suite of changes favored in dense tropical jungles (Pygmification) and you might expect to see adaptive archaic alleles there too. Mike Hammer and others have an abstract out in ASHG 2014 that supports this notion: there was already evidence for introgression from a very divergent hominid population in Pygmies and Bushmen, and they found some genomic regions that A.  look archaic and B. seem to have been favored by positive selection.

There is a good chance that we will find archaic variants involved in Negritos (probably Denisovan in origin),  Ethiopian altitude adaptations,  and Bushmen ( steatopygia?).  Could also occur with less-visible traits such as resistance to regional infectious diseases outside of Africa (such as scrub typhus in the tsutsugamushi triangle). 

Posted in Altitude adaptations, Bushmen, Denisovans, Mangani, Pygmies | 30 Comments

Cal Tech

The only time I wandered around Cal Tech, I noticed a corpse lying on the floor of an office.

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Ashkenazi Ancestry revisited

Shai Carmi has his article out on Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.  A few comments:

First, looks like a good job, on the whole. Perhaps Carmi had special training…

Second, about dates: they assume a mutation rate of 1.44 x 10-8 per generation, and a generation length of 25 years. I think both of those are a little off.  All the directly-measured whole-genome rates are between 0.96×10−8 and 1.20×10−8: I wouldn’t go higher than 1.20 x 10-8 per generation, with what I know now.  In the course of looking at paternal age effects, I also checked out the known data on average generation lengths. In no known population is it as short as 25 years: never less than 28 for females, and almost always longer than 28 for males, usually in the 30s.  30 is a much more reasonable generation length than 25.

The date estimates are inversely related to the assumed mutation rate and directly proportional to the generation length.

In the article, they estimate an Ashkenazi bottleneck with an effective size of 250-420, 25-32 generations ago. With a mutation rate of 1.2 x 10-8 per generation, that changes to an effective size of 300-500 (not much different) 30-38.4 generations ago.

By their numbers, we’re talking 625-800 years ago.  Adjusted, 900-1150. Since we know for sure that at least some Ashkenazi Jews were in the Rhineland before the year 1000, I think that the revised estimate indicates that the original settlement was the bottleneck, which makes sense.

Third, about comparison populations: they used Flemings as a sample European population, and estimated the Ashkenazi Jews are 46-50% European. Why Flemings?  All the previous analyses have suggested that their European component is from southern Europe.  The mtDNA analysis is pretty specific: Italy and France.   I think you’d get a better estimate using Italians, and it would probably yield a slightly higher estimate of European admixture.

Posted in Ashkenazi Jews | 104 Comments