Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East

A sample of 526 Y chromosomes representing six Middle Eastern populations (Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Kurdish Jews from Israel; Muslim Kurds; Muslim Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Authority Area; and Bedouin from the Negev) was analyzed for 13 binary polymorphisms and six microsatellite loci. The investigation of the genetic relationship among three Jewish communities revealed that Kurdish and Sephardic Jews were indistinguishable from one another, whereas both differed slightly, yet significantly, from Ashkenazi Jews. The differences among Ashkenazim may be a result of low-level gene flow from European populations and/or genetic drift during isolation. Admixture between Kurdish Jews and their former Muslim host population in Kurdistan appeared to be negligible. In comparison with data available from other relevant populations in the region, Jews were found to be more closely related to groups in the north of the Fertile Crescent (Kurds, Turks, and Armenians) than to their Arab neighbors. The two haplogroups Eu 9 and Eu 10 constitute a major part of the Y chromosome pool in the analyzed sample. Our data suggest that Eu 9 originated in the northern part, and Eu 10 in the southern part of the Fertile Crescent. Genetic dating yielded estimates of the expansion of both haplogroups that cover the Neolithic period in the region. Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin differed from the other Middle Eastern populations studied here, mainly in specific high-frequency Eu 10 haplotypes not found in the non-Arab groups. These chromosomes might have been introduced through migrations from the Arabian Peninsula during the last two millennia. The present study contributes to the elucidation of the complex demographic history that shaped the present-day genetic landscape in the region.

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High-resolution Y chromosome haplotypes of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs reveal geographic substructure and substantial overlap with haplotypes of Jews

High-resolution Y chromosome haplotype analysis was performed in 143 paternally unrelated Israeli and Palestinian Moslem Arabs (I&P Arabs) by screening for 11 binary polymorphisms and six microsatellite loci. Two frequent haplotypes were found among the 83 detected: the modal haplotype of the I&P Arabs (~14%) was spread throughout the region, while its one-step microsatellite neighbor, the modal haplotype of the Galilee sample (~8%), was mainly restricted to the north. Geographic substructuring within the Arabs was observed in the highlands of Samaria and Judea. Y chromosome variation in the I&P Arabs was compared to that of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, and to that of North Welsh individuals. At the haplogroup level, defined by the binary polymorphisms only, the Y chromosome distribution in Arabs and Jews was similar but not identical. At the haplotype level, determined by both binary and microsatellite markers, a more detailed pattern was observed. Single-step microsatellite networks of Arab and Jewish haplotypes revealed a common pool for a large portion of Y chromosomes, suggesting a relatively recent common ancestry. The two modal haplotypes in the I&P Arabs were closely related to the most frequent haplotype of Jews (the Cohen modal haplotype). However, the I&P Arab clade that includes the two Arab modal haplotypes (and makes up 32% of Arab chromosomes) is found at only very low frequency among Jews, reflecting divergence and/or admixture from other populations.

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The Two Common Mutations Causing Factor XI Deficiency in Jews Stem From Distinct Founders: One of Ancient Middle Eastern Origin and Another of More Recent European Origin

Previous studies showed that factor XI (FXI) deficiency commonly observed in Ashkenazi Jews is caused by two similarly frequent mutations, type II (Glu117stop) and type III (Phe283Leu) with allele frequencies of 0.0217 and 0.0254, respectively. In Iraqi Jews, who represent the ancient gene pool of Jews, only the type II mutation was observed with an allele frequency of 0.0167. In this study we sought founder effects for each mutation by examination of four FXI gene polymorphisms enabling haplotype analysis in affected Jewish patients of Ashkenazi, Iraqi, and other origins and in Arab patients. Initial population surveys of 387 Middle Eastern Jews (excluding Iraqi Jews), 560 North African/Sephardic Jews, and 382 Arabs revealed allele frequencies for the type II mutation of 0.0026, 0.0027, and 0.0065, respectively. In contrast, the type III mutation was not detected in any of these populations. All 60 independent chromosomes bearing the type III mutation were solely observed in Ashkenazi Jewish patients and were characterized by a relatively rare haplotype. All 103 independent chromosomes bearing the type II mutation in patients of Ashkenazi, Iraqi, Yemenite, Syrian, and Moroccan Jewish origin and of Arab origin were characterized by another distinct haplotype that was rare among normal Ashkenazi Jewish, Iraqi Jewish, and Arab chromosomes. These findings constitute the first example of a mutation common to Ashkenazi Jews, non-Ashkenazi Jews, and Arabs and are consistent with the origin of type II mutation in a founder before the divergence of the major segments of Jews. Our findings also indicate that the type III mutation arose more recently in an Ashkenazi Jewish individual.

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The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence

We develop the hypothesis that the unique demography and sociology of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe selected for intelligence. Ashkenazi literacy, economic specialization, and closure to inward gene flow led to a social environment in which there was high fitness payoff to intelligence, specifically verbal and mathematical intelligence but not spatial ability. As with any regime of strong directional selection on a quantitative trait, genetic variants that were otherwise fitness reducing rose in frequency. In particular we propose that the well-known clusters of Ashkenazi genetic diseases, the sphingolipid cluster and the DNA repair cluster in particular, increase intelligence in heterozygotes. Other Ashkenazi disorders are known to increase intelligence. Although these disorders have been attributed to a bottleneck in Ashkenazi history and consequent genetic drift, there is no evidence of any bottleneck. Gene frequencies at a large number of autosomal loci show that if there was a bottleneck then subsequent gene flow from Europeans must have been very large, obliterating the effects of any bottleneck. The clustering of the disorders in only a few pathways and the presence at elevated frequency of more than one deleterious allele at many of them could not have been produced by drift. Instead these are signatures of strong and recent natural selection.

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Reconstruction of Patrilineages and Matrilineages of Samaritans and Other Israeli Populations From Y-Chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Variation

The Samaritan community, which numbered more than a million in late Roman times and only 146 in 1917, numbers today about 640 people representing four large families. They are culturally different from both Jewish and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East and their origin remains a question of great interest. Genetic differences between the Samaritans and neighboring Jewish and non-Jewish populations are corroborated in the present study of 7,280 bp of nonrecombining Y-chromosome and 5,622 bp of coding and hypervariable segment I (HVS-I) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences. Comparative sequence analysis was carried out on 12 Samaritan Y-chromosome, and mtDNA samples from nine male and seven female Samaritans separated by at least two generations. In addition, 18–20 male individuals were analyzed, each representing Ethiopian, Ashkenazi, Iraqi, Libyan, Moroccan, and Yemenite Jews, as well as Druze and Palestinians, all currently living in Israel. The four Samaritan families clustered to four distinct Y-chromosome haplogroups according to their patrilineal identity. Of the 16 Samaritan mtDNA samples, 14 carry either of two mitochondrial haplotypes that are rare or absent among other worldwide ethnic groups. Principal component analysis suggests a common ancestry of Samaritan and Jewish patrilineages. Most of the former may be traced back to a common ancestor in the paternally-inherited Jewish high priesthood (Cohanim) at the time of the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel.

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