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Keywords:

  • archaeology;
  • Chinese horse;
  • haplogroup;
  • mitochondrial DNA D-loop;
  • origin

Summary

To obtain more knowledge of the origin and genetic diversity of domestic horses in China, this study provides a comprehensive analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) D-loop sequence diversity from nine horse breeds in China in conjunction with ancient DNA data and evidence from archaeological and historical records. A 247-bp mitochondrial D-loop sequence from 182 modern samples revealed a total of 70 haplotypes with a high level of genetic diversity. Seven major mtDNA haplogroups (A–G) and 16 clusters were identified for the 182 Chinese modern horses. In the present study, nine 247-bp mitochondrial D-loop sequences of ancient remains of Bronze Age horse from the Chifeng region of Inner Mongolia in China (c. 4000–2000a bp) were used to explore the origin and diversity of Chinese modern horses and the phylogenetic relationship between ancient and modern horses. The nine ancient horses carried seven haplotypes with rich genetic diversity, which were clustered together with modern individuals among haplogroups A, E and F. Modern domestic horse and ancient horse data support the multiple origins of domestic horses in China. This study supports the argument that multiple successful events of horse domestication, including separate introductions of wild mares into the domestic herds, may have occurred in antiquity, and that China cannot be excluded from these events. Indeed, the association of Far Eastern mtDNA types to haplogroup F was highly significant using Fisher’s exact test of independence (P = 0.00002), lending support for Chinese domestication of this haplogroup. High diversity and all seven mtDNA haplogroups (A–G) with 16 clusters also suggest that further work is necessary to shed more light on horse domestication in China.