Genetic Chaos

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Y chromosome haplotypes reveal prehistorical migrations to the Himalayas

By using 19 Y chromosome biallelic markers and 3 Y chromosome microsatellite markers, we analyzed the genetic structure of 31 indigenous Sino-Tibetan speaking populations (607 individuals) currently residing in East, Southeast, and South Asia. Our results showed that a T to C mutation at locus M122 is highly prevalent in almost all of the Sino-Tibetan populations, implying a strong genetic affinity among populations in the same language family. Furthermore, the extremely high frequency of H8, a haplotype derived from M122C, in the Sino-Tibetan speaking populations in the Himalayas including Tibet and northeast India indicated a strong bottleneck effect that occurred during a westward and then southward migration of the founding population of Tibeto-Burmans. We, therefore, postulate that the ancient people, who lived in the upper-middle Yellow River basin about 10,000 years ago and developed one of the earliest Neolithic cultures in East Asia, were the ancestors of modern Sino-Tibetan populations.

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Analyses of Genetic Structure of Tibeto-Burman Populations Reveals Sex-Biased Admixture in Southern Tibeto-Burmans

An unequal contribution of male and female lineages from parental populations to admixed ones is not uncommon in the American continents, as a consequence of directional gene flow from European men into African and Hispanic Americans in the past several centuries. However, little is known about sex-biased admixture in East Asia, where substantial migrations are recorded. Tibeto-Burman (TB) populations were historically derived from ancient tribes of northwestern China and subsequently moved to the south, where they admixed with the southern natives during the past 2,600 years. They are currently extensively distributed in China and Southeast Asia. In this study, we analyze the variations of 965 Y chromosomes and 754 mtDNAs in 120 TB populations from China. By examining the haplotype group distributions of Y-chromosome and mtDNA markers and their principal components, we show that the genetic structure of the extant southern Tibeto-Burman (STB) populations were primarily formed by two parental groups: northern immigrants and native southerners. Furthermore, the admixture has a bias between male and female lineages, with a stronger influence of northern immigrants on the male lineages (~62%) and with the southern natives contributing more extensively to the female lineages (~56%) in the extant STBs. This is the first genetic evidence revealing sex-biased admixture in STB populations, which has genetic, historical, and anthropological implications.

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The Northeast Indian Passageway: A Barrier or Corridor for Human Migrations?

The northeast Indian passageway connecting the Indian subcontinent to east/southeast Asia is thought to have been a major corridor for human migrations. Because it is also an important linguistic contact zone, it is predicted that northeast India has witnessed extensive population interactions, thus leading to high genetic diversity within groups and heterogeneity among groups. To test this prediction, we analyzed 14 bi-allelic and 5 short tandem repeat Y-chromosome markers and hypervariable region 1 mtDNA sequence variation in 192 northeast Indians. We find that both northeast Indian Y-chromosomes and mtDNAs consistently show strikingly high homogeneity among groups and strong affinities to east Asian groups. We detect virtually no Y-chromosome and mtDNA admixture between northeast and other Indian groups. Northeast Indian groups are also characterized by a greatly reduced Y-chromosome diversity, which contrasts with extensive mtDNA diversity. This is best explained by a male founder effect during the colonization of northeast India that is estimated to have occurred within the last 4,000 years. Thus, contrary to the prediction, these results provide strong evidence for a genetic discontinuity between northeast Indian groups and other Indian groups. We therefore conclude that the northeast Indian passageway acted as a geographic barrier rather than as a corridor for human migrations between the Indian subcontinent and east/southeast Asia, at least within the last millennia and possibly for several tens of thousand years, as suggested by the overall distinctiveness of the Indian and east Asian Y-chromosome and mtDNA gene pools.

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The Himalayas as a Directional Barrier to Gene Flow

High-resolution Y-chromosome haplogroup analyses coupled with Y–short tandem repeat (STR) haplotypes were used to (1) investigate the genetic affinities of three populations from Nepal—including Newar, Tamang, and people from cosmopolitan Kathmandu (referred to as "Kathmandu" subsequently)—as well as a collection from Tibet and (2) evaluate whether the Himalayan mountain range represents a geographic barrier for gene flow between the Tibetan plateau and the South Asian subcontinent. The results suggest that the Tibetans and Nepalese are in part descendants of Tibeto-Burman–speaking groups originating from Northeast Asia. All four populations are represented predominantly by haplogroup O3a5-M134–derived chromosomes, whose Y-STR–based age (±SE) was estimated at 8.1 ± 2.9 thousand years ago (KYA), more recent than its Southeast Asian counterpart. The most pronounced difference between the two regions is reflected in the opposing high-frequency distributions of haplogroups D in Tibet and R in Nepal. With the exception of Tamang, both Newar and Kathmandu exhibit considerable similarities to the Indian Y-haplogroup distribution, particularly in their haplogroup R and H composition. These results indicate gene flow from the Indian subcontinent and, in the case of haplogroup R, from Eurasia as well, a conclusion that is also supported by the admixture analysis. In contrast, whereas haplogroup D is completely absent in Nepal, it accounts for 50.6% of the Tibetan Y-chromosome gene pool. Coalescent analyses suggest that the expansion of haplogroup D derivatives—namely, D1-M15 and D3-P47 in Tibet—involved two different demographic events (5.1 ± 1.8 and 11.3 ± 3.7 KYA, respectively) that are more recent than those of D2-M55 representatives common in Japan. Low frequencies, relative to Nepal, of haplogroup J and R lineages in Tibet are also consistent with restricted gene flow from the subcontinent. Yet the presence of haplogroup O3a5-M134 representatives in Nepal indicates that the Himalayas have been permeable to dispersals from the east. These genetic patterns suggest that this cordillera has been a biased bidirectional barrier.

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