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Gene-culture coevolution between cattle milk protein genes and human lactase genes

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 January 2004


Milk from domestic cows has been a valuable food source for over 8,000 years, especially in lactose-tolerant human societies that exploit dairy breeds. We studied geographic patterns of variation in genes encoding the six most important milk proteins in 70 native European cattle breeds. We found substantial geographic coincidence between high diversity in cattle milk genes, locations of the European Neolithic cattle farming sites (>5,000 years ago) and present-day lactose tolerance in Europeans. This suggests a gene-culture coevolution between cattle and humans.

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Figure 1: Geographic coincidence between milk gene diversity in cattle, lactose tolerance in humans and locations of Neolithic cattle farming sites in NCE.


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We thank M. Zvelebil for ideas and discussion. A.B.-P. is supported by a grant from Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia through the Graduate Programme in Areas of Basic and Applied Biology, and the work was partially supported by a Praxis project grant. G.L. and P.R.E. were funded by the European Union (Econogene). D.G.B. is a Science Foundation Ireland Investigator.

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Correspondence to Albano Beja-Pereira.

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Beja-Pereira, A., Luikart, G., England, P. et al. Gene-culture coevolution between cattle milk protein genes and human lactase genes. Nat Genet 35, 311–313 (2003).

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