Spread of a Lactase-Persistence Allele
This activity guides the analysis of a published scientific figure from a study that investigated how human populations might adapt to milk consumption, both genetically and culturally.
As babies, humans produce an enzyme called lactase to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. Though most people stop producing lactase as they grow older, some have a trait called lactase persistence that allows them to keep producing lactase throughout their lives. One hypothesis suggests that lactase persistence was strongly selected for in populations that traditionally raised animals for milk.
To investigate this hypothesis, scientists traced the spread of a common lactase-persistence allele through Asia and Europe over the last 10,000 years. Using both ancient and present-day samples, and both genotype and phenotype data, they estimated how common the allele was among people in different regions over time. In the figure, dots indicate the sampled individuals and populations, and the pink/red shading indicates the estimated allele frequency based on the samples.
Student Learning Targets
- Analyze and interpret data from a scientific figure.
- Describe the spread of an allele, over both time and space, and what this might suggest about selective pressure on the allele.
- Explain why lactase persistence may or may not have been selected for in certain populations.
- Compare ways in which different populations may have adapted to milk consumption, either genetically or culturally.
adaptation, dairy, digestion, fermentation, genotype, heat map, lactose, mutation, pastoral population, phenotype
Ségurel, Laure, Perle Guarino-Vignon, Nina Marchi, Sophie Lafosse, Romain Laurent, Céline Bon, Alexandre Fabre, et al. “Why and when was lactase persistence selected for? Insights from Central Asian herders and ancient DNA.” PLOS Biology 18, 6 (2020): e3000742. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000742.
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Accessibility Level (WCAG compliance)
HS-LS3-3, HS-LS4-2, HS-LS4-3, HS-LS4-4; SEP2, SEP4, SEP5HS-LS3-3, HS-LS4-2, HS-LS4-3, HS-LS4-4; SEP2, SEP4, SEP5
AP Biology 2019
IST-4.B, EVO-1.D, EVO-1.J, EVO-1.N; SP1, SP4
IB Biology 2016
AP Environmental Science 2020
Topics(s): 2.6, 3.8
Learning Objectives & Practices: ERT-2.H, EIN-1.C; SP2, SP5
Common Core 2010
Vision and Change 2009
CC1; DP2, DP3