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  1. Abstract The genetic prehistory of human populations in Central America is largely unexplored leaving an important gap in our knowledge of the global expansion of humans. We report genome-wide ancient DNA data for a transect of twenty individuals from two Belize rock-shelters dating between 9,600-3,700 calibrated radiocarbon years before present (cal. BP). The oldest individuals (9,600-7,300 cal. BP) descend from an Early Holocene Native American lineage with only distant relatedness to present-day Mesoamericans, including Mayan-speaking populations. After ~5,600 cal. BP a previously unknown human dispersal from the south made a major demographic impact on the region, contributing more than 50% of the ancestry of all later individuals. This new ancestry derived from a source related to present-day Chibchan speakers living from Costa Rica to Colombia. Its arrival corresponds to the first clear evidence for forest clearing and maize horticulture in what later became the Maya region.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  2. Abstract Data from rock shelters in southern Belize show evidence of tool making, hunting, and aquatic resource exploitation by 10,500 cal b.c. ; the shelters functioned as mortuary sites between 7600 and 2000 cal b.c. Early Holocene contexts contain stemmed and barbed bifaces as part of a tradition found broadly throughout the neotropics. After around 6000 cal b.c. , bifacial tools largely disappear from the record, likely reflecting a shift to increasing reliance on plant foods, around the same time that the earliest domesticates appear in the archaeological record in the neotropics. We suggest that people living in southern Belize maintained close ties with neighbors to the south during the Early Holocene, but lagged behind in innovating new crops and farming technologies during the Middle Holocene. Maize farming in Belize intensified between 2750–2050 cal b.c. as maize became a dietary staple, 1000–1300 years later than in South America. Overall, we argue from multiple lines of data that the Neotropics of Central and South America were an area of shared information and technologies that heavily influenced cultural developments in southeastern Mesoamerica during the Early and Middle Holocene.
  3. Gene expression is the fundamental level at which the results of various genetic and regulatory programs are observable. The measurement of transcriptome-wide gene expression has convincingly switched from microarrays to sequencing in a matter of years. RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) provides a quantitative and open system for profiling transcriptional outcomes on a large scale and therefore facilitates a large diversity of applications, including basic science studies, but also agricultural or clinical situations. In the past 10 years or so, much has been learned about the characteristics of the RNA-seq data sets, as well as the performance of the myriad of methods developed. In this review, we give an overview of the developments in RNA-seq data analysis, including experimental design, with an explicit focus on the quantification of gene expression and statistical approachesfor differential expression. We also highlight emerging data types, such as single-cell RNA-seq and gene expression profiling using long-read technologies.
  4. Maize is a cultigen of global economic importance, but when it first became a staple grain in the Americas, was unknown and contested. Here, we report direct isotopic dietary evidence from 52 radiocarbon-dated human skeletons from two remarkably well-preserved rock-shelter contexts in the Maya Mountains of Belize spanning the past 10,000 years. Individuals dating before ~4700 calendar years before present (cal B.P.) show no clear evidence for the consumption of maize. Evidence for substantial maize consumption (~30% of total diet) appears in some individuals between 4700 and 4000 cal B.P. Isotopic evidence after 4000 cal B.P. indicates that maize became a persistently used staple grain comparable in dietary significance to later maize agriculturalists in the region (>70% of total diet). These data provide the earliest definitive evidence for maize as a staple grain in the Americas.
  5. Most methods for statistical analysis of RNA-seq data take a matrix of abundance estimates for some type of genomic features as their input, and consequently the quality of any obtained results is directly dependent on the quality of these abundances. Here, we present the junction coverage compatibility score, which provides a way to evaluate the reliability of transcript-level abundance estimates and the accuracy of transcript annotation catalogs. It works by comparing the observed number of reads spanning each annotated splice junction in a genomic region to the predicted number of junction-spanning reads, inferred from the estimated transcript abundances and the genomic coordinates of the corresponding annotated transcripts. We show that although most genes show good agreement between the observed and predicted junction coverages, there is a small set of genes that do not. Genes with poor agreement are found regardless of the method used to estimate transcript abundances, and the corresponding transcript abundances should be treated with care in any downstream analyses.