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Lactase persistence and the Cultural History of Europe (LeCHE)
Start date: 01 Sep 2008, End date: 31 Aug 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The ideal training for future researchers in Europe, draws together leading groups in the world, state-of-the-art methods and a clearly focused, important and emotive questions with widespread repercussions, and integrates them using sophisticated tools and training devices; welcome to LeCHE. This large (14 researcher, 24 participant) training network explores the origin and impact of dairying Europe. The ITN will draw on the latest genetic studies of modern humans and domestic animals to identify markers of specific traits, but will also travel back in time and search for these in ancient remains. The Lactase Persistence trait is under extreme selection in humans; ancient DNA analyses suggesting that it was absent in the first Neolithic farmers. Modern phylogeographic patterning indicates a high degree of co-evolution of humans and domesticates. We will test these hypotheses by using sophisticated chemical and isotopic geochemical analyses of artefacts and bones, combined with traditional archaeology to obtain direct evidence of milk consumption and explore husbandry practices. All these data will be integrated into a large database. Mathematical modelling of gene flow and selection in Neolithic populations, constrained by archaeological data, will be compared with modern distribution of genetic diversity and ancient remains. Each student will have their own research project, but will be encouraged to think and work as a team, by network activities, including a sophisticated set of Web 2.0 tools for communication, summer schools and their co-authorship of a book, the latter to teach them writing, editing and team-working skills. The students will benefit from industrial involvement, both instrument/analytical, but also the involvement of the modern diary industry. They will help organize a final conference, for which we have already agreed sponsorship from a Spanish foundation, sponsors of the meeting at which this proposal was born.
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