Holocene Selection for Variants Associated with General Cognitive Ability: Comparing Ancient and Modern Genomes

Michael A. Woodley of Menie, Shameem Younuskunju, Bipin Balan, Davide Piffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Citations (Scopus)


Human populations living during the Holocene underwent considerable microevolutionary change. It has been theorized that the transition of Holocene populations into agrarianism and urbanization brought about culture-gene co-evolution that favored via directional selection genetic variants associated with higher general cognitive ability (GCA). To examine whether GCA might have risen during the Holocene, we compare a sample of 99 ancient Eurasian genomes (ranging from 4.56 to 1.21 kyr BP) with a sample of 503 modern European genomes (Fst = 0.013), using three different cognitive polygenic scores (130 SNP, 9 SNP and 11 SNP). Significant differences favoring the modern genomes were found for all three polygenic scores (odds ratios = 0.92, p = 001;.81, p = 037; and.81, p =.02 respectively). These polygenic scores also outperformed the majority of scores assembled from random SNPs generated via a Monte Carlo model (between 76.4% and 84.6%). Furthermore, an indication of increasing positive allele count over 3.25 kyr was found using a subsample of 66 ancient genomes (r = 0.22, pone-tailed =.04). These observations are consistent with the expectation that GCA rose during the Holocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-280
Number of pages10
JournalTwin Research and Human Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017



  • 1000 Genomes dataset
  • ancient genomes
  • Bronze Age
  • directional selection
  • polygenic scores

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Genetics(clinical)

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