Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Mitochondrial lineages in Ladin-speaking communities of the eastern Alps

European mitochondrial alleles cluster into five haplogroups. Haplogroup 2 is rare in general, but represents more than half of the few known sequences among Ladin speakers of the Alps. Here we describe DNA diversity in control region I of the hypervariable D-loop in 43 Ladins, and in 25 Italian speakers. Analysis of these data, and of previously published sequences, confirms a high degree of differentiation among Ladins and their geographical neighbours. This cannot be regarded as a simple effect of isolating factors, geographic or linguistic, as diversity is high within Ladin communities too. Rather, allele genealogies, population trees, and principal component analysis suggest a relationship between Ladin and Near Eastern samples. Two evolutionary hypotheses seem compatible with these findings. The view whereby Ladins could be descended from Palaeolithic inhabitants of the Alps is supported by the identification, in this study, of the probable ancestral haplotype of group 2, never previously observed in central Europe. Alternatively, a comparatively recent, Neolithic immigration of the ancestors of current Ladin speakers seems consistent with recent linguistic theories. In both cases, the number of lineages present, and their extensive diversity, are not compatible with a serious bottleneck in the Ladin population's history.

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Mitochondrial Diversity in Linguistic Isolates of the Alps: A Reappraisal

In Stenico et al. (1996) we reported unusually high levels of mitochondrial diversity in the Alps. In particular, two communities of Ladin speakers appeared the most extreme European mitochondrial outliers at that time. Recently, it has been observed that some rare nucleotide substitutions occur repeatedly among those sequences, raising the possibility of systematic sequencing errors. No biological material was left from the previous study, and hence we had to sample new individuals from the same communities. Here, we present the HVSI sequence variation, along with haplogroup assignment based on restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), in 20 Ladin speakers of Colle Santa Lucia. None of the new sequences displays substitutions at the sites viewed as problematic. However, Ladins still show high levels of mtDNA diversity, both within their community and with respect to other Europeans, and they can still be considered one of the main European mitochondrial outliers.

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