Ancient AMY1 gene duplications primed the amylase locus for adaptive evolution upon the onset of agriculture

Very excited to share our latest preprint on the AMY1 gene duplications!

Starch digestion is a cornerstone of human nutrition. The amylase enzyme, which digests starch, plays a key role in starch metabolism. Indeed, the copy number of the human amylase gene has been associated with metabolic diseases and adaptation to agricultural diets. Previous studies suggested that duplications of the salivary amylase gene are of recent origin. In the course of characterizing 51 distinct amylase haplotypes across 98 individuals employing long-read DNA sequencing and optical mapping methods, we detected four 31mers linked to duplication of the amylase locus. Analyses with these 31mers suggest that the first duplication of the amylase locus occurred more than 700,000 years ago before the split between modern humans and Neanderthals. After the original duplication events, amplification of the AMY1 genes likely occurred via nonallelic homologous recombination in a manner that consistently results in an odd number of copies per chromosome. These findings suggest that amylase haplotypes may have been primed for bursts of natural-selection associated duplications that coincided with the incorporation of starch into human diets.

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