Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the Caucasus: evidence from the Y-chromosome

A previous analysis of mtDNA variation in the Caucasus found that Indo-European-speaking Armenians and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanians were more closely related genetically to other Caucasus populations (who speak Caucasian languages) than to other Indo-European or Turkic groups, respectively. Armenian and Azerbaijanian therefore represent language replacements, possibly via elite dominance involving primarily male migrants, in which case genetic relationships of Armenians and Azerbaijanians based on the Y-chromosome should more closely reflect their linguistic relationships. We therefore analyzed 11 bi-allelic Y-chromosome markers in 389 males from eight populations, representing all major linguistic groups in the Caucasus. As with the mtDNA study, based on the Y-chromosome Armenians and Azerbaijanians are more closely-related genetically to their geographic neighbors in the Caucasus than to their linguistic neighbors elsewhere. However, whereas the mtDNA results show that Caucasian groups are more closely related genetically to European than to Near Eastern groups, by contrast the Y-chromosome shows a closer genetic relationship with the Near East than with Europe.

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Mitochondrial DNA variation and language replacements in the Caucasus

Sequences of the first hypervariable segment of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region were obtained from 353 individuals representing nine groups and four major linguistic families (Indo-European, Altaic and North and South Caucasian) of the Caucasus region. The diversity within and between Caucasus populations exceeded the diversity within Europe, but was less than that in the Near East. Caucasus populations occupy an intermediate position between European and Near Eastern populations in tree and principal coordinate analyses, suggesting that they are either ancestral to European populations or derived via admixture from European and Near Eastern populations. The genetic relationships among Caucasus populations reflect geographical rather than linguistic relationships. In particular, the Indo-European-speaking Armenians and Altaic-speaking Azerbaijanians are most closely related to their nearest geographical neighbours in the Caucasus, not their linguistic neighbours (i.e. other Indo-European or Altaic populations). The mtDNA evidence thus suggests that the Armenian and Azerbaijanian languages represent instances of language replacement that had little impact on the mtDNA gene pool.

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Alu insertion polymorphisms and the genetic structure of human populations from the Caucasus

An analysis of 8 Alu insertion loci (ACE, TPA25, PV92, APO, FXIIIB, D1, A25, B65) has been carried out in six populations from the Caucasus, including Indo-European-speaking Armenians; Altaic-speaking Azerbaijanians; North Caucasian-speaking Cherkessians, Darginians, and Ingushians; and South Caucasian (Kartvelian)-speaking Georgians. The Caucasus populations exhibit low levels of within-population variation and high levels of between-population differentiation, with the average Fst value for the Caucasus of 0.113, which is almost as large as the Fst value of 0.157 for worldwide populations. Maximum likelihood tree and principal coordinate analyses both group the Caucasus populations with European populations. Neither geographic nor linguistic relationships appear to explain the genetic relationships of Caucasus populations. Instead, it appears as if they have been small and relatively isolated, and hence genetic drift has been the dominant influence on the genetic structure of Caucasus populations.

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Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Variation in the Caucasus

We have analyzed mtDNA HVI sequences and Y chromosome haplogroups based on 11 binary markers in 371 individuals, from 11 populations in the Caucasus and the neighbouring countries of Turkey and Iran. Y chromosome haplogroup diversity in the Caucasus was almost as high as in Central Asia and the Near East, and significantly higher than in Europe. More than 27% of the variance in Y-haplogroups can be attributed to differences between populations, whereas mtDNA showed much lower heterogeneity between populations (less then 5%), suggesting a strong influence of patrilocal social structure. Several groups from the highland region of the Caucasus exhibited low diversity and high differentiation for either or both genetic systems, reflecting enhanced genetic drift in these small, isolated populations. Overall, the Caucasus groups showed greater similarity with West Asian than with European groups for both genetic systems, although this similarity was much more pronounced for the Y chromosome than for mtDNA, suggesting that male-mediated migrations from West Asia have influenced the genetic structure of Caucasus populations.

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Genetics and Population History of Caucasus Populations

We describe aspects of genetic diversity in several ethnic populations of the Caucasus of Daghestan using mitochondrial DNA sequences and a sample of 100 polymorphic ALU insertion loci. The mitochondrial DNA sequences are like those of Europe. Principal coordinates and nearest neighbor statistics show that there is little detectable structure in the distances among populations computed from mtDNA. The ALU frequencies of the Caucasus populations suggest that they have undergone more genetic drift than most other groups since the dispersal of modern humans. Genetic differences among these populations are not large; instead they are of the same order as distances among populations of Europe. We compare two methods of inference about the demography of ancient colonizing populations from Africa, one based on conventional Fst statistics and one based on mean ALU insertion frequencies. The two approaches agree reasonably well if we assume that there was demographic growth in Africa before the diaspora of ancestors of contemporary regional human groups outside Africa.

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