Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Human Y-Chromosome Variation in the Western Mediterranean Area: Implications for the Peopling of the Region

Y-chromosome variation was analyzed in a sample of 1127 males from the Western Mediterranean area by surveying 16 biallelic and 4 multiallelic sites. Some populations from Northeastern Europe and the Middle East were also studied for comparison. All Y-chromosome haplotypes were included in a parsimonious genealogic tree consisting of 17 haplogroups, several of which displayed distinct geographic specificities. One of the haplogroups, HG9.2, has some features that are compatible with a spread into Europe from the Near East during the Neolithic period. However, the current distribution of this haplogroup would suggest that the Neolithic gene pool had a major impact in the eastern and central part of the Mediterranean basin, but very limited consequences in Iberia and Northwestern Europe. Two other haplogroups, HG25.2 and HG2.2, were found to have much more restricted geographic distributions. The first most likely originated in the Berbers within the last few thousand years, and allows the detection of gene flow to Iberia and Southern Europe. The latter haplogroup is common only in Sardinia, which confirms the genetic peculiarity and isolation of the Sardinians. Overall, this study demonstrates that the dissection of Y-chromosome variation into haplogroups with a more restricted geographic distribution can reveal important differences even between populations that live at short distances, and provides new clues to their past interactions.

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Geographical Structuring in the mtDNA of Italians

Geographical patterns of mtDNA variation were studied in 12 Italian samples (1072 individuals) by two different spatial autocorrelation methods. Separate analyses of the frequencies of 12 restriction morphs show North-South clines, differences between Sardinia and the mainland populations, and the effects of isolation by distance. A recently developed autocorrelation statistic summarizing molecular similarity at all sites (AIDA; autocorrelation index for DNA analysis) confirms the presence of a clinal pattern; differences between random pairs of haplotypes tend to increase with their geographical distance. The partition of gene diversity, however, reveals that most variability occurs within populations, whereas differences between populations are minor (GST = 0.057). When the data from the 12 samples are pooled, two descriptors of genetic variability (number of polymorphic sites and average sequence difference between pairs of individuals) do not behave as expected under neutrality. The presence of clinal patterns, Tajima's tests, and a simulation experiment agree in suggesting that population sizes increased rapidly in Italy and Sicily but not necessarily so in Sardinia. The distribution of pairwise sequence differences in the Italian peninsula (excluding Sardinia) permits a tentative location of the demographic increase between 8000 and 20,500 years ago. These dates are consistent with archaeological estimates of two distinct expansion processes, occurring, respectively, in the Neolithic and after the last glacial maximum in the Paleolithic. Conversely, there is no genetic evidence that such processes have had a major impact on the Sardinian population.

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Peopling of Three Mediterranean Islands (Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily) Inferred by Y-Chromosome Biallelic Variability

An informative set of biallelic polymorphisms was used to study the structure of Y-chromosome variability in a sample from the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sicily, and compared with data on Sardinia to gain insights into the ethnogenesis of these island populations. The results were interpreted in a broader Mediterranean context by including in the analysis neighboring populations previously studied with the same methodology. All samples studied were enclosed in the comparable spectrum of European Y-chromosome variability. Pronounced differences were observed between the islands as well as in the percentages of haplotypes previously shown to have distinctive patterns of continental phylogeography. Approximately 60% of the Sicilian haplotypes are also prevalent in Southern Italy and Greece. Conversely, the Corsican sample had elevated levels of alternative haplotypes common in Northern Italy. Sardinia showed a haplotype ratio similar to that observed in Corsica, but with a remarkable difference in the presence of a lineage defined by marker M26, which approaches 35% in Sardinia but seems absent in Corsica. Although geographically adjacent, the data suggest different colonization histories and a minimal amount of recent gene flow between them. Our results identify possible ancestral continental sources of the various island populations and underscore the influence of founder effect and genetic drift. The Y-chromosome data are consistent with comparable mtDNA data at the RFLP haplogroup level of resolution, as well as linguistic and historic knowledge.

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Geographic homogeneity and non-equilibrium patterns of mtDNA sequences in Tuscany, Italy

The geographical distribution of 49 mtDNA sequences from 22 localities in Southern Tuscany, Italy, was studied by molecular analysis of variance, by a new spatial autocorrelation statistic specifically designed for sequence data and by reconstructing genealogies of haplotypes. All these methods indicated a high homogeneity of populations. Nevertheless, genetic variability showed significant departure from equilibrium expectations, in agreement with the predicted effects of a population expansion. We suggest that a past population expansion that was probably associated with a migrational wave and with local gene flow between localities prevented spatial structuring in Southern Tuscany.

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Origin, Diffusion, and Differentiation of Y-Chromosome Haplogroups E and J: Inferences on the Neolithization of Europe and Later Migratory Events in the Mediterranean Area

The phylogeography of Y-chromosome haplogroups E (Hg E) and J (Hg J) was investigated in 12,400 subjects from 29 populations, mainly from Europe and the Mediterranean area but also from Africa and Asia. The observed 501 Hg E and 445 Hg J samples were subtyped using 36 binary markers and eight microsatellite loci. Spatial patterns reveal that (1) the two sister clades, J-M267 and J-M172, are distributed differentially within the Near East, North Africa, and Europe; (2) J-M267 was spread by two temporally distinct migratory episodes, the most recent one probably associated with the diffusion of Arab people; (3) E-M81 is typical of Berbers, and its presence in Iberia and Sicily is due to recent gene flow from North Africa; (4) J-M172(xM12) distribution is consistent with a Levantine/Anatolian dispersal route to southeastern Europe and may reflect the spread of Anatolian farmers; and (5) E-M78 (for which microsatellite data suggest an eastern African origin) and, to a lesser extent, J-M12(M102) lineages would trace the subsequent diffusion of people from the southern Balkans to the west. A 7%–22% contribution of Y chromosomes from Greece to southern Italy was estimated by admixture analysis.

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