The traits — thicker hair shafts, more sweat glands, characteristically identified teeth and smaller breasts — are the result of a gene mutation that occurred about 35,000 years ago, the researchers have concluded.
The discovery explains a crucial juncture in the evolution of East Asians. But the method can also be applied to some 400 other sites on the human genome. The DNA changes at these sites, researchers believe, mark the turning points in recent human evolution as the populations on each continent diverged from one another.
The first of those sites to be studied contains the gene known as EDAR. Africans and Europeans carry the standard version of the gene, but in most East Asians, one of the DNA units has mutated.Journal Reference:
Mice already have EDAR, an ancient mammalian gene that plays a leading role in the embryo in shaping hair, skin and teeth. The Broad team engineered a strain of mice whose EDAR gene had the same DNA change as the East Asian version of EDAR. When the mice grew up, the researchers found they did indeed have thicker hair shafts, confirming that the changed gene was the cause of East Asians’ thicker hair.
A series of selections on different traits thus made the variant version so common among East Asians. About 93 percent of Han Chinese carry the variant, as do about 70 percent of people in Japan and Thailand, and 60 to 90 percent of American Indians, a population descended from East Asians.
Yana G. Kamberov, Sijia Wang, Jingze Tan, Pascale Gerbault, Abigail Wark, Longzhi Tan, Yajun Yang, Shilin Li, Kun Tang, Hua Chen et al. Modeling Recent Human Evolution in Mice by Expression of a Selected EDAR Variant. Cell, 14 February 2013 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.01.016