Background: The emergence of agriculture about 10,000 years ago marks a dramatic change in human evolutionary history. The diet shift in agriculture societies might have a great impact on the genetic makeup of Neolithic human populations. The regionally restricted enrichment of the class I alcohol dehydrogenase sequence polymorphism (ADH1BArg47His) in southern China and the adjacent areas suggests Darwinian positive selection on this genetic locus during Neolithic time though the driving force is yet to be disclosed.
Results: We studied a total of 38 populations (2,275 individuals) including Han Chinese, Tibetan and other ethnic populations across China. The geographic distribution of the ADH1B*47His allele in these populations indicates a clear east-to-west cline, and it is dominant in south-eastern populations but rare in Tibetan populations. The molecular dating suggests that the emergence of the ADH1B*47His allele occurred about 10,000 to approximately 7,000 years ago.
Conclusion: We present genetic evidence of selection on the ADH1BArg47His polymorphism caused by the emergence and expansion of rice domestication in East Asia. The geographic distribution of the ADH1B*47His allele in East Asia is consistent with the unearthed culture relic sites of rice domestication in China. The estimated origin time of ADH1B*47His allele in those populations coincides with the time of origin and expansion of Neolithic agriculture in southern China.