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The Complete Mitochondrial Genome of an 11,450-year-old Aurochsen (Bos primigenius) from Central Italy

Martina Lari1, Ermanno Rizzi2, Stefano Mona38, Giorgio Corti2, Giulio Catalano1, Kefei Chen4, Cristiano Vernesi5, Greger Larson6, Paolo Boscato7, Gianluca De Bellis2, Alan Cooper4, David Caramelli1 and Giorgio Bertorelle3*

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica, Università di Firenze, Firenze, Italy

2 Istituto di Tecnologie Biomediche, CNR, Segrate (MI), Italy

3 Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Università di Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy

4 Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

5 IASMA Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach, Trento, Italy

6 Department of Archaeology, Durham University, Durham, UK

7 Dipartimento di Scienze Ambientali, Università di Siena, Siena, Italy

8 EPHE (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes), Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-32

Published: 31 January 2011



Bos primigenius, the aurochs, is the wild ancestor of modern cattle breeds and was formerly widespread across Eurasia and northern Africa. After a progressive decline, the species became extinct in 1627. The origin of modern taurine breeds in Europe is debated. Archaeological and early genetic evidence point to a single Near Eastern origin and a subsequent spread during the diffusion of herding and farming. More recent genetic data are instead compatible with local domestication events or at least some level of local introgression from the aurochs. Here we present the analysis of the complete mitochondrial genome of a pre-Neolithic Italian aurochs.


In this study, we applied a combined strategy employing both multiplex PCR amplifications and 454 pyrosequencing technology to sequence the complete mitochondrial genome of an 11,450-year-old aurochs specimen from Central Italy. Phylogenetic analysis of the aurochs mtDNA genome supports the conclusions from previous studies of short mtDNA fragments - namely that Italian aurochsen were genetically very similar to modern cattle breeds, but highly divergent from the North-Central European aurochsen.


Complete mitochondrial genome sequences are now available for several modern cattle and two pre-Neolithic mtDNA genomes from very different geographic areas. These data suggest that previously identified sub-groups within the widespread modern cattle mitochondrial T clade are polyphyletic, and they support the hypothesis that modern European breeds have multiple geographic origins.