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Genetic evidence for Near-Eastern origins of European cattle


The limited ranges of the wild progenitors of many of the primary European domestic species point to their origins further east in Anatolia or the fertile crescent1,2. The wild ox (Bos primigenius), however, ranged widely3 and it is unknown whether it was domesticated within Europe as one feature of a local contribution to the farming economy1,2,4. Here we examine mitochondrial DNA control-region sequence variation from 392 extant animals sampled from Europe, Africa and the Near East, and compare this with data from four extinct British wild oxen. The ancient sequences cluster tightly in a phylogenetic analysis and are clearly distinct from modern cattle. Network analysis of modern Bos taurus identifies four star-like clusters of haplotypes, with intra-cluster diversities that approximate to that expected from the time depth of domestic history. Notably, one of these clusters predominates in Europe and is one of three encountered at substantial frequency in the Near East. In contrast, African diversity is almost exclusively composed of a separate haplogroup, which is encountered only rarely elsewhere. These data provide strong support for a derived Near-Eastern origin for European cattle.

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Figure 1: Neighbour-joining phylogeny of B. indicus, B. taurus and extinct British B. primigenius mtDNA control-region haplotypes.
Figure 2: B. taurus mtDNA reduced median networks constructed from six regional haplotype groups.

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We thank C. Hawkes, O. Ertugrul, A. H. Al Haboby, A. H. Harba, M. A. A. El-Barody, E. Thompson, T. Goodchild, H. Halila, A. Swaid, G. Guneren, B. Tekbas, M. Bruford, B. Sauveroche, G. Kana, D. Achu-Kwi, M. Diallo, L. Gnaho, K. Papadopolous, A. G. Georgoudis, C. Gaillard, O. Hanotte, E. Rege, the Nordic GeneBank and C. Hawes for assistance or provision of samples. We also thank the Highland Cattle Society and the Black and Belted Galloway Societies for sample information. This work was partly funded by a European Commission contract. D.E.M. was supported by a Wellcome Trust Fellowship in Bioarchaeology. J.F.B. is a European Commission Marie Curie Fellow. Radiocarbon dating at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit was funded by NERC.

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Correspondence to Daniel G. Bradley.

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Troy, C., MacHugh, D., Bailey, J. et al. Genetic evidence for Near-Eastern origins of European cattle. Nature 410, 1088–1091 (2001).

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