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Concept: Central Asia


Phytoliths and biomolecular components extracted from ancient plant remains from Chang'an (Xi'an, the city where the Silk Road begins) and Ngari (Ali) in western Tibet, China, show that the tea was grown 2100 years ago to cater for the drinking habits of the Western Han Dynasty (207BCE-9CE), and then carried toward central Asia by ca.200CE, several hundred years earlier than previously recorded. The earliest physical evidence of tea from both the Chang'an and Ngari regions suggests that a branch of the Silk Road across the Tibetan Plateau, was established by the second to third century CE.

Concepts: China, People's Republic of China, Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, Central Asia, Xi'an, Silk Road, Chang'an


The Near East Fertile Crescent is well recognized as a primary center of barley origin, diversity, and domestication. A large number of wild barleys have been collected from the Tibetan Plateau, which is characterized by an extreme environment. We used genome-wide diversity array technology markers to analyze the genotypic division between wild barley from the Near East and Tibet. Our results confirmed the existence of Tibetan wild barley and suggested that the split between the wild barleys in the Near East and those in Tibet occurred around 2.76 million years ago (Mya). To test the concept of polyphyletic domestication of barley, we characterized a set of worldwide cultivated barley. Some Chinese hulless and six-rowed barleys showed a close relationship with Tibetan wild barley but showed no common ancestor with other cultivated barley. Our data support the concept of polyphyletic domestication of cultivated barley and indicate that the Tibetan Plateau and its vicinity is one of the centers of domestication of cultivated barley. The current results may be highly significant in exploring the elite germplasm for barley breeding, especially against cold and drought stresses.

Concepts: Agriculture, Barley, Fertile Crescent, Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibet, Central Asia, Near East, Tibetan Plateau


Arid central Asia (ACA) is one of the most arid regions in the mid-latitudes and one of the main potential dust sources for the northern hemisphere. The lack of in situ early Pleistocene loess/dust records from ACA hinders our comprehensive understanding of the spatio-temporal record of aeolian loess accumulation and long term climatic changes in Asia as a whole. Here, we report the results of sedimentological, chronological and climatic studies of early Pleistocene loess-palaeosol sequences (LPS) from the northeastern Iranian Golestan Province (NIGP) in the western part of ACA. Our results reveal that: 1) Accumulation of loess on the NIGP commenced at ~2.4-1.8 Ma, making it the oldest loess known so far in western ACA; 2) the climate during the early Pleistocene in the NIGP was semi-arid, but wetter, warmer, and less windy than during the late Pleistocene and present interglacial; 3) orbital-scale palaeoclimatic changes in ACA during the early Pleistoceneare in-phase with those of monsoonal Asia, a relationship which was probably related to the growth and decay of northern hemisphere ice sheets.

Concepts: Time, Climate, Asia, Iran, Steppe, Northern Hemisphere, Central Asia, Iranian languages


Meromictic lakes located in landlocked steppes of central Asia (~2500 km inland) have unique geophysiochemical characteristics compared to other meromictic lakes. To characterize their bacteria and elucidate relationships between those bacteria and surrounding environments, water samples were collected from three saline meromictic lakes (Lakes Shira, Shunet and Oigon) in the border between Siberia and the West Mongolia, near the center of Asia. Based on in-depth tag pyrosequencing, bacterial communities were highly variable and dissimilar among lakes and between oxic and anoxic layers within individual lakes. Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Cyanobacteria, Actinobacteria and Firmicutes were the most abundant phyla, whereas three genera of purple sulfur bacteria (a novel genus, Thiocapsa and Halochromatium) were predominant bacterial components in the anoxic layer of Lake Shira (~20.6% of relative abundance), Lake Shunet (~27.1%) and Lake Oigon (~9.25%), respectively. However, few known green sulfur bacteria were detected. Notably, 3.94% of all sequencing reads were classified into 19 candidate divisions, which was especially high (23.12%) in the anoxic layer of Lake Shunet. Furthermore, several hydro-parameters (temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, H2S and salinity) were associated (P< 0.05) with variations in dominant bacterial groups. In conclusion, based on highly variable bacterial composition in water layers or lakes, we inferred that the meromictic ecosystem was characterized by high diversity and heterogenous niches.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Oxygen, Bacteria, Microbiology, Lake, Hydrogen sulfide, Central Asia, Anoxic event


Although a vaccine against hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been available since 1982, the prevalence of adults with chronic HBV infection in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia is still estimated at 5-10%. A high rate of chronic infections is also found in the Amazon and the southern parts of eastern and central Europe. In the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, the prevalence is 2-5%. Less than 1% of the population of Western Europe and North America is chronically infected. Given the high prevalence of infections (such as hepatitis) among inmates, prison is considered a reservoir for facilitating such infections. Based on these premises, this current review examines and discusses emerging trends in the epidemiology of HBV infection, with particular attention to HBV infection in prison. The hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) prevalence in prisoners in west and central Africa is very high (23.5%). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the importance of HBV blood screening and subsequent anti-HBV vaccination in the prison population. The vaccination was recommended for all inmates, representing an opportunity to prevent HBV infection in a high-risk population. In these subjects, an accelerated hepatitis B immunisation schedule may result in rapid seroconversion for early short-term protection. Therefore, it is necessary to seek collaboration among public health officials, clinicians and correctional authorities to implement a vaccination programme.

Concepts: Immune system, Disease, North Africa, Middle East, Europe, Hepatitis B, Asia, Central Asia


The increasing frequency of zoonotic disease events underscores a need to develop forecasting tools toward a more preemptive approach to outbreak investigation. We apply machine learning to data describing the traits and zoonotic pathogen diversity of the most speciose group of mammals, the rodents, which also comprise a disproportionate number of zoonotic disease reservoirs. Our models predict reservoir status in this group with over 90% accuracy, identifying species with high probabilities of harboring undiscovered zoonotic pathogens based on trait profiles that may serve as rules of thumb to distinguish reservoirs from nonreservoir species. Key predictors of zoonotic reservoirs include biogeographical properties, such as range size, as well as intrinsic host traits associated with lifetime reproductive output. Predicted hotspots of novel rodent reservoir diversity occur in the Middle East and Central Asia and the Midwestern United States.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Prediction, Future, Middle East, Asia, Bat, Zoonosis, Central Asia


The apple is the most common and culturally important fruit crop of temperate areas. The elucidation of its origin and domestication history is therefore of great interest. The wild Central Asian species Malus sieversii has previously been identified as the main contributor to the genome of the cultivated apple (Malus domestica), on the basis of morphological, molecular, and historical evidence. The possible contribution of other wild species present along the Silk Route running from Asia to Western Europe remains a matter of debate, particularly with respect to the contribution of the European wild apple. We used microsatellite markers and an unprecedented large sampling of five Malus species throughout Eurasia (839 accessions from China to Spain) to show that multiple species have contributed to the genetic makeup of domesticated apples. The wild European crabapple M. sylvestris, in particular, was a major secondary contributor. Bidirectional gene flow between the domesticated apple and the European crabapple resulted in the current M. domestica being genetically more closely related to this species than to its Central Asian progenitor, M. sieversii. We found no evidence of a domestication bottleneck or clonal population structure in apples, despite the use of vegetative propagation by grafting. We show that the evolution of domesticated apples occurred over a long time period and involved more than one wild species. Our results support the view that self-incompatibility, a long lifespan, and cultural practices such as selection from open-pollinated seeds have facilitated introgression from wild relatives and the maintenance of genetic variation during domestication. This combination of processes may account for the diversification of several long-lived perennial crops, yielding domestication patterns different from those observed for annual species.

Concepts: Seed, Apple, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Malus, Malus sieversii, Malus sylvestris, Apples


The geographic and temporal origins of dogs remain controversial. We generated genetic sequences from 59 ancient dogs and a complete (28x) genome of a late Neolithic dog (dated to ~4800 calendar years before the present) from Ireland. Our analyses revealed a deep split separating modern East Asian and Western Eurasian dogs. Surprisingly, the date of this divergence (~14,000 to 6400 years ago) occurs commensurate with, or several millennia after, the first appearance of dogs in Europe and East Asia. Additional analyses of ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA revealed a sharp discontinuity in haplotype frequencies in Europe. Combined, these results suggest that dogs may have been domesticated independently in Eastern and Western Eurasia from distinct wolf populations. East Eurasian dogs were then possibly transported to Europe with people, where they partially replaced European Paleolithic dogs.

Concepts: Genetics, Continent, Europe, Asia, Neolithic, Russia, Central Asia, Eurasia


The ancient ‘Silk Roads’ formed a vast network of trade and exchange that facilitated the movement of commodities and agricultural products across medieval Central Asia via settled urban communities and mobile pastoralists. Considering food consumption patterns as an expression of socio-economic interaction, we analyse human remains for carbon and nitrogen isotopes in order to establish dietary intake, then model isotopic niches to characterize dietary diversity and infer connectivity among communities of urbanites and nomadic pastoralists. The combination of low isotopic variation visible within urban groups with isotopic distinction between urban communities irrespective of local environmental conditions strongly suggests localized food production systems provided primary subsistence rather than agricultural goods exchanged along trade routes. Nomadic communities, in contrast, experienced higher dietary diversity reflecting engagements with a wide assortment of foodstuffs typical for mobile communities. These data indicate tightly bound social connectivity in urban centres pointedly funnelled local food products and homogenized dietary intake within settled communities, whereas open and opportunistic systems of food production and circulation were possible through more mobile lifeways.

Concepts: Agriculture, Nutrition, Food, Sustainability, Food security, Central Asia, Silk Road, Nomad


Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East Asia with the West. However, this study shows that there are major psychological differences within China. We propose that a history of farming rice makes cultures more interdependent, whereas farming wheat makes cultures more independent, and these agricultural legacies continue to affect people in the modern world. We tested 1162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that rice-growing southern China is more interdependent and holistic-thinking than the wheat-growing north. To control for confounds like climate, we tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. We also find that modernization and pathogen prevalence theories do not fit the data.

Concepts: China, Han Chinese, People's Republic of China, East Asia, Taiwan, Chinese language, Central Asia, Confucianism