Genetic Chaos

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Estimating Scandinavian and Gaelic Ancestry in the Male Settlers of Iceland

We present findings based on a study of Y-chromosome diallelic and microsatellite variation in 181 Icelanders, 233 Scandinavians, and 283 Gaels from Ireland and Scotland. All but one of the Icelandic Y chromosomes belong to haplogroup 1 (41.4%), haplogroup 2 (34.2%), or haplogroup 3 (23.8%). We present phylogenetic networks of Icelandic Y-chromosome variation, using haplotypes constructed from seven diallelic markers and eight microsatellite markers, and we propose two new clades. We also report, for the first time, the phylogenetic context of the microsatellite marker DYS385 in Europe. A comparison of haplotypes based on six diallelic loci and five microsatellite loci indicates that some Icelandic haplogroup-1 chromosomes are likely to have a Gaelic origin, whereas for most Icelandic haplogroup-2 and -3 chromosomes, a Scandinavian origin is probable. The data suggest that 20%-25% of Icelandic founding males had Gaelic ancestry, with the remainder having Norse ancestry. The closer relationship with the Scandinavian Y-chromosome pool is supported by the results of analyses of genetic distances and lineage sharing. These findings contrast with results based on mtDNA data, which indicate closer matrilineal links with populations of the British Isles. This supports the model, put forward by some historians, that the majority of females in the Icelandic founding population had Gaelic ancestry, whereas the majority of males had Scandinavian ancestry.

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mtDNA and the Islands of the North Atlantic: Estimating the Proportions of Norse and Gaelic Ancestry

A total of 1,664 new mtDNA control-region sequences were analyzed in order to estimate Gaelic and Scandinavian matrilineal ancestry in the populations of Iceland, Orkney, the Western Isles, and the Isle of Skye and to investigate other aspects of their genetic history. A relative excess of private lineages in the Icelanders is indicative of isolation, whereas the scarcity of private lineages in Scottish island populations may be explained by recent gene flow and population decline. Differences in the frequencies of lineage clusters are observed between the Scandinavian and the Gaelic source mtDNA pools, and, on a continent-wide basis, such differences between populations seem to be associated with geography. A multidimensional scaling analysis of genetic distances, based on mtDNA lineage cluster frequencies, groups the North Atlantic islanders with the Gaelic and the Scandinavian populations, whereas populations from the central, southern, and Baltic regions of Europe are arranged in clusters in broad agreement with their geographic locations. This pattern is highly significant, according to a Mantel correlation between genetic and geographic distances (r=.716). Admixture analyses indicate that the ancestral contributions of mtDNA lineages from Scandinavia to the populations of Iceland, Orkney, the Western Isles, and the Isle of Skye are 37.5%, 35.5%, 11.5%, and 12.5%, respectively.

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mtDNA and the Origin of the Icelanders: Deciphering Signals of Recent Population History

Previous attempts to investigate the origin of the Icelanders have provided estimates of ancestry ranging from a 98% British Isles contribution to an 86% Scandinavian contribution. We generated mitochondrial sequence data for 401 Icelandic individuals and compared these data with >2,500 other European sequences from published sources, to determine the probable origins of women who contributed to Iceland's settlement. Although the mean number of base-pair differences is high in the Icelandic sequences and they are widely distributed in the overall European mtDNA phylogeny, we find a smaller number of distinct mitochondrial lineages, compared with most other European populations. The frequencies of a number of mtDNA lineages in the Icelanders deviate noticeably from those in neighboring populations, suggesting that founder effects and genetic drift may have had a considerable influence on the Icelandic gene pool. This is in accordance with available demographic evidence about Icelandic population history. A comparison with published mtDNA lineages from European populations indicates that, whereas most founding females probably originated from Scandinavia and the British Isles, lesser contributions from other populations may also have taken place. We present a highly resolved phylogenetic network for the Icelandic data, identifying a number of previously unreported mtDNA lineage clusters and providing a detailed depiction of the evolutionary relationships between European mtDNA clusters. Our findings indicate that European populations contain a large number of closely related mitochondrial lineages, many of which have not yet been sampled in the current comparative data set. Consequently, substantial increases in sample sizes that use mtDNA data will be needed to obtain valid estimates of the diverse ancestral mixtures that ultimately gave rise to contemporary populations.

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