Genetic Chaos

Monday, May 10, 2004

Mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals diverse histories of tribal populations from India

We analyzed 370 bp of the first hypervariable region of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region in752 individuals from 17 tribal and four nontribal groups from the Indian subcontinent, to address questions concerning the origins, genetic structure and relationships of these groups. Southern Indian tribes showed reduced diversity and large genetic distances, both among themselves and when compared with other groups, and no signal of prehistoric demographic expansions. These results probably reflect enhanced genetic drift because of small population sizes and/or bottlenecks in these groups. By contrast, northern groups exhibited more diversity and signals of prehistoric demographic expansions. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that southern and northern groups (except northeastern ones) have related mtDNA sequences albeit at different frequencies, further supporting the larger impact of drift on the genetic structure of southern groups. The Indian mtDNA gene pool appears to be more closely related to the east Eurasian gene pool (including central, east and southeast Asian populations) than the west Eurasian one (including European and Caucasian populations). Within India, northeastern tribes are quite distinct from other groups; they are more closely related to east Asians than to other Indians. This is consistent with linguistic evidence in that these populations speak Tibeto-Burman languages of east Asian origin. Otherwise, analyses of molecular variance suggested that caste and tribal groups are genetically similar with respect to mtDNA variation.

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