Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles

The degree of population replacement in the British Isles associated with cultural changes has been extensively debated. Recent work has demonstrated that comparisons of genetic variation in the British Isles and on the European Continent can illuminate specific demographic processes in the history of the British Isles. For example, Wilson et al. used the similarity of Basque and Celtic Y chromosomes to argue for genetic continuity from the Upper Palaeolithic to the present in the paternal history of these populations. Differences in the Y chromosome composition of these groups also suggested genetic signatures of Norwegian influence in the Orkney Islands north of the Scottish mainland, an important center of Viking activities between 800 and 1300 A.D. More recently, Weale et al. argued for substantial Anglo-Saxon male migration into central England based on the analysis of eight British sample sets collected on an east-west transect across England and Wales. To provide a more complete assessment of the paternal genetic history of the British Isles, we have compared the Y chromosome composition of multiple geographically distant British sample sets with collections from Norway (two sites), Denmark, and Germany and with collections from central Ireland, representing, respectively, the putative invading and the indigenous populations. By analyzing 1772 Y chromosomes from 25 predominantly small urban locations,we found that different parts of the British Isles have sharply different paternal histories; the degree of population replacement and genetic continuity shows systematic variation across the sampled areas.

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Y Chromosome Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration

British history contains several periods of major cultural change. It remains controversial as to how much these periods coincided with substantial immigration from continental Europe, even for those that occurred most recently. In this study, we examine genetic data for evidence of male immigration at particular times into Central England and North Wales. To do this, we used 12 biallelic polymorphisms and six microsatellite markers to define high resolution Y chromosome haplotypes in a sample of 313 males from seven towns located along an east-west transect from East Anglia to North Wales. The Central English towns were genetically very similar, whereas the two North Welsh towns differed significantly both from each other and from the Central English towns. When we compared our data with an additional 177 samples collected in Friesland and Norway, we found that the Central English and Frisian samples were statistically indistinguishable. Using novel population genetic models that incorporate both mass migration and continuous gene flow, we conclude that these striking patterns are best explained by a substantial migration of Anglo-Saxon Y chromosomes into Central England (contributing 50%–100% to the gene pool at that time) but not into North Wales.

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Genetic evidence for different male and female roles during cultural transitions in the British Isles

Human history is punctuated by periods of rapid cultural change. Although archeologists have developed a range of models to describe cultural transitions, in most real examples we do not know whether the processes involved the movement of people or the movement of culture only. With a series of relatively well defined cultural transitions, the British Isles present an ideal opportunity to assess the demographic context of cultural change. Important transitions after the first Paleolithic settlements include the Neolithic, the development of Iron Age cultures, and various historical invasions from continental Europe. Here we show that patterns of Y-chromosome variation indicate that the Neolithic and Iron Age transitions in the British Isles occurred without large-scale male movements. The more recent invasions from Scandinavia, on the other hand, appear to have left a significant paternal genetic legacy. In contrast, patterns of mtDNA and X-chromosome variation indicate that one or more of these pre-Anglo-Saxon cultural revolutions had a major effect on the maternal genetic heritage of the British Isles.

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Evidence of Admixture from Haplotyping in an Epidemiological Study of UK Caucasian Males: Implications for Association Analyses

Objective: Cohort and case-control genetic association studies offer the greatest power to detect small genotypic influences on disease phenotypes, relative to family-based designs. However, genetic subdivisions could confound studies involving unrelated individuals, but the topic has been little investigated. We examined geographical and interallelic association of SNP and microsatellite haplotypes of the Y chromosome, of regions of chromosome 11, and of autosomal SNP genotypes relevant to cardiovascular risk traits in a UK-wide epidemiological survey. Results: We show evidence (p = 0.00001) of the Danelaw history of the UK, marked by a two-fold excess of a Viking Y haplotype in central England. We also found evidence for a (different) single-centre geographical over-representation of one haplotype, both for APOC3-A4-A5 and for IGF2. The basis of this remains obscure but neither reflect genotyping error nor correlate with the phenotypic associations by centre of these markers. A panel of SNPs relevant to cardiovascular risks traits showed neither association with geographical location nor with Y haplotypes. Conclusion: Combinations of Y haplotyping, autosomal haplotyping, and genome-wide SNP typing, taken together with phenotypic2 associations, should improve epidemiological recognition and interpretation of possible confounding by genetic subdivision.

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Genetic evidence for a family-based Scandinavian settlement of Shetland and Orkney during the Viking periods

The Viking age witnessed the expansion of Scandinavian invaders across much of northwestern Europe. While Scandinavian settlements had an enduring cultural impact on North Atlantic populations, the nature and extent of their genetic legacy in places such as Shetland and Orkney is not clear. In order to explore this question further, we have made an extensive survey of both Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in the North Atlantic region. Our findings indicate an overall Scandinavian ancestry of ~44% for Shetland and ~30% for Orkney, with approximately equal contributions from Scandinavian male and female subjects in both cases. This contrasts with the situation for the Western Isles, where the overall Scandinavian ancestry is less (~15%) and where there is a disproportionately high contribution from Scandinavian males. In line with previous studies, we find that Iceland exhibits both the greatest overall amount of Scandinavian ancestry (55%) and the greatest discrepancy between Scandinavian male and female components. Our results suggest that while areas close to Scandinavia, such as Orkney and Shetland, may have been settled primarily by Scandinavian family groups, lone Scandinavian males, who later established families with female subjects from the British Isles, may have been prominent in areas more distant from their homeland.

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